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Missouri House approves raising vote percentage to amend constitution

Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Members of the Missouri House of Representatives, photographed last month, approved a resolution Thursday that would raise the percentage of votes needed to pass amendments to the state's constitution.

The Missouri House on Thursday approved making it harder to amend the state’s constitution.

Currently, a proposed amendment to the constitution in the initiative ballot petition process requires a simple majority to pass. Under the resolution proposed by Rep. Mike Henderson, R-Bonne Terre, that threshold would increase to 60%.

“I believe that the Missouri Constitution is a living document but not an ever-expanding document. And right now it has become an ever-expanding document with over 60 additions since 1945,” Henderson said.

If the resolution is also passed by the Senate, it would go on the ballot and take effect if approved by a simple majority of voters.

House members discussed the resolution for hours on the floor Wednesday before giving it first-round approval along party lines 106-50. On Thursday, the House gave it final approval with little debate, voting 108-50 to send it to the Senate.

The legislation does not address signature requirements, which is another avenue that Republicans are considering in order to change the process. The legislation would apply to constitutional amendments brought both by the initiative petition process and by lawmakers.

Over the years, Missouri voters have passed several issues through the initiative petition process, including medical and recreational marijuana, Medicaid expansion and a minimum wage hike.

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said that if the legislature wanted to make changes to some of those constitutional additions, this resolution would make it harder to do so. He specifically spoke on the marijuana amendments.

“We know that they're likely to need changes over time, because they're detailed.” Merideth said. “And the world surrounding drug laws in our country is changing over time, so isn't it important that we be able to change our constitution with changing times like that?”

In addition to the higher threshold, the resolution requires the secretary of state to provide a period in each of Missouri’s congressional districts to review and comment on the proposed constitutional amendments.

It also states that only citizens of the United States who are properly registered would be able to vote.

Henderson said the citizen portion of the resolution is clarification language, even though that language is already in the state’s constitution.

Democrats repeatedly spoke against that portion of the amendment, saying that its placement at the top of the proposed amendment is misleading to voters.

“The first thing we have on the ballot language says to allow only citizens of the United States to qualify as legal voters,” Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia, said. “And my fear is that people are going to go into the ballot box and think that's really what this is about, and they're going to be misled.”

Several Democrats offered amendments, including one that would have changed the order of the existing amendment language so the citizen portion is last and another that would have eliminated that portion.

None of the amendments passed.

Speaking after the vote on Thursday, House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, said while they are open to other ways to amend the process, this particular resolution is the one they have spent the most time on.

“Our leadership team here, we thought, put the best foot forward on this bill,” Plocher said.

As to what the message needs to be in order to convince voters to pass the amendment, Plocher reiterated the importance of the state’s constitution.

“This is our Constitution. It's a sacred document. You don't change it willy-nilly,” Plocher said. “And we shouldn't be changing our constitution just because out-of-state money and interests that have very little connection to Missouri want to affect Missourians' quality of life.”

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said she believes voters agree with Democrats on this issue.

“The citizens of Missouri have used the initiative petition process for so many things. And people enjoy that process. They enjoy being a part of the conversation,” Quade said.

With the resolution on its way to the other chamber, Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, expressed his support Thursday.

On the resolution’s language, Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said everything, including possibly rearranging the order of how the amendment reads, is on the table.

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.