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Missouri Senate gives initial approval to make it harder for voters to change the constitution

Senator Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, speaks with Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, during session on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, in Jefferson City. Senate Republican leadership has clashed with members of the Missouri Freedom Caucus holding up business.
Eric Lee
St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, pictured in January, sponsored an amendment that stripped out language Democrats had labeled as ballot candy. The amendment passed 18-12, leaving the underlying resolution only about raising the voter threshold for proposed constitutional amendments.

After a roughly 20-hour filibuster by Democrats, the Missouri Senate gave initial approval Tuesday to a resolution that would make it harder to amend the state’s constitution.

Under the resolution, which Senate members approved by a voice vote, proposed constitutional amendments through the initiative petition process would have to win both a simple majority of statewide votes and a majority of Missouri’s eight congressional districts in order to pass.

This would give voters in less populated areas greater input on the passage of proposed constitutional amendments, supporters said.

Currently, it takes a simple majority for a proposed constitutional amendment to pass once it makes it on the ballot.

Not included in the resolution are several measures that Democrats said were meant to distract voters from the main goal of the proposal, which was the higher voter threshold for proposed constitutional amendments.

The additional provisions included one stating only legal residents of Missouri and U.S. citizens would be able to vote on constitutional amendments. Another provision bars foreign interference with the initiative petition process.

U.S. citizenship is already a requirement for people to vote in Missouri, and federal law prohibits spending by foreign entities in any election.

Democrats throughout their filibuster spoke against the so-called ballot candy, stating the removal of it was essential for the resolution to move through the Senate.

“You take the ballot candy out of this, this goes right through because at that point it is a fair fight,” said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence.

On Tuesday afternoon, Sen Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, proposed an amendment that stripped all the language in the resolution unrelated to the higher voter threshold.

“This amendment is taking out all the things that we're calling ballot candy today and just going back to this straight underlying amendment, it’s also changing the ballot language to reflect those changes,” Cierpiot said.

Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, pushed back against Cierpiot’s amendment, asking him why he would want to remove the provision forbidding noncitizens to vote.

“I will be voting no on your amendment,” Eigel said.

Cierpiot repeatedly said to Eigel that it is already illegal for noncitizens to vote in Missouri. He also said the resolution with all the added provisions was not going to pass the Senate.

“I'm maybe one of the few people in this room that think our voters are smart enough to understand what the underlying language is about. And so I'm actually perfectly OK with giving that to them and letting them make a decision,” Cierpiot said.

Senators voted 18-12 to pass the amendment, with all the no votes coming from Republicans.

The Senate then gave initial approval to the resolution. It must go through another vote in the Senate before going to the House.

The initial approval of the proposed constitutional change comes the same day the House gave preliminary approval to its own legislation making different changes to the initiative petition process.

House Floor Leader Jon Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, has said the House was waiting for the Senate to act on initiative petitions, rather than passing its own bill first.

Making it harder to amend the Missouri constitution has been a priority for Republicans for several sessions.

Last session, House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, laid the blame at senators, saying that if abortion were to become legal through a constitutional amendment, it was their fault, not the House’s.

Senate Democrats brought up that point multiple times during the filibuster.

“The reality of it, this is about blocking an effort to restore women’s rights in Missouri,” said Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City.

If the legislation were to pass both chambers, it would then need voter approval for it to go into effect.

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