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Missouri House votes to make it harder for residents to amend the constitution

The Missouri State Capitol on Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
House Republicans approved a House resolution Wednesday that would make it harder to amend Missouri's constitution.

Missouri House Republicans passed a resolution Wednesday that seeks to make it harder to amend the state constitution.

Lawmakers voted 106-49 to pass the resolution, almost strictly on party lines, with Majority Floor Leader Jon Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, being the only Republican to vote no.

The resolution now goes to the Senate, which has already approved its version.

“We urge the passage of this bill, Mr. Speaker, to protect the stability and integrity of our Missouri Constitution,” said Rep. John Black, R-Marshfield, the bill's sponsor.

The resolution, if passed by both chambers, would ask voters whether it should be harder to amend Missouri’s constitution through the initiative petition process.

Through the resolution, it would take both a simple majority of votes and a majority of Missouri’s eight congressional districts to pass a constitutional amendment.

Currently, a simple majority vote is required to pass an amendment once it makes it onto the ballot.

Supporters of the legislation say the change is to make sure rural voters have more of a voice in the process.

Speaking to Black, Rep. Michael Burton, D-Lakeshire, said for people in more populous counties, their vote would be diluted.

“I just can't wrap my head around the fact that you're going to tell my constituents that they are not equal when they go to vote,” Burton said.

Speaking in favor of the resolution, Rep. Dave Hinman, R-O’Fallon, reminded lawmakers that if passed this year, the resolution would still need voter approval.

“They'll be able to voice their opinion and make that decision whether it's the right thing or the wrong thing,” Hinman said.

Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, also brought up a possible future vote on the resolution by the people.

“I am confident if this gets through, our voters are going to tell us once again, ‘Our voice matters. Listen to us.’ and they're going to vote this down,” Nurrenbern said.

In addition to the new threshold for constitutional amendments, the House resolution contains other provisions.

It raises the number of signatures needed to place a proposed amendment on the ballot in the first place from 8% of legal voters in two-thirds of Missouri’s congressional districts to 8% of voters in all districts.

Additionally, the resolution contains so-called “ballot candy,” which aims to make the proposal more appealing to some voters.

Some of that language is a provision that says only U.S. citizens and properly registered Missouri residents are considered legal voters, which is already the case.

After passing the House-sponsored resolution on Wednesday, members are also poised to act on a similar Senate resolution. Members of the Senate worked through a filibuster by Democrats earlier in session to pass their own resolution on the same issue.

Democrats ultimately stepped aside after the resolution was stripped of any additional language unrelated to the initiative petition change.

However, members of the House recently put that language back on the bill during committee, ultimately making it harder to pass once it goes back to the Senate.

Putting this question to voters has been a priority for Republicans the past few sessions.

Speaking at the end of the 2023 legislative session, House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, said it would be the fault of the Senate if abortion were to become legal through the initiative petition process.

Rep. Patty Lewis, D-Kansas City, brought up those comments during debate Thursday.

“This is about reproductive freedom, which this body took away. And it's about taking away our vote to restore reproductive freedom in the state of Missouri,” Lewis said.

Currently, signatures are being collected for a constitutional amendment that would legalize abortion in Missouri. The deadline for collecting signatures is May 5.

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