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Missouri House votes to make it harder to amend constitution, now it goes back to Senate

The Missouri State House of Representatives gavel in for the start of the 2024 legislative session on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri House of Representatives, pictured in January, sent a resolution back to the Senate on Thursday that would make it harder to amend the constitution.

Whether the Missouri legislature will pass a resolution asking voters to make it harder to amend the state constitution is again up to the Senate.

The Missouri House on Thursday voted 102-49 to send the legislation back to the Senate after amending it. Now, it must either be approved by the Senate or the two chambers need to work on a compromise resolution.

Speaking after the vote, House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, said there will be conversations between the chambers on what the Senate will do with the amended bill.

“I think we've made our position pretty clear with the Senate on what we would like to see. As the bill goes over there, we would look forward to engaging them in good discussion,” Plocher said.

House Republicans want language in the resolution they think will make it more likely to pass.

Currently, a simple majority of votes is needed to pass a proposed constitutional amendment once it makes it onto the ballot. The proposed resolution would increase that threshold to both a simple majority of votes and the majority of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.

When the Senate initially sent over its resolution, it contained only the provision that raises the required votes needed.

The proposed amendment passed after hours of filibustering from Senate Democrats who wanted other language that was originally in the resolution stripped off.

One of those provisions stated that only legal residents of Missouri and U.S. citizens would be able to vote on constitutional amendments. Another would bar 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.

These additions have been called ballot candy – aimed at making the resolution more appealing to some voters.

While the Senate’s version deleted those additions, the House added that language back in on Thursday, once again setting up a possible showdown between Republicans who want the additional language, including Senate bill sponsor Mary Elizabeth Coleman R-Arnold, and Senate Democrats.

Democratic senators have said they think voters will defeat the measure if it’s straightforward.

House Democrats spoke out against the decision to add the so-called ballot candy back onto the resolution both on the floor and after the vote.

Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia, said he was shocked that Republicans would push for this added language.

“You're going to come in here with a straight face in this building, this respected chamber, and push deceptive language out there for the people to have to deal with. This is outrageous,” Smith said.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said with the changes, there is a possibility that the resolution does not pass.

“I think it's a very good possibility that this dies, I know that the Senate Democrats are going to stand their ground and push very hard to try to stop this from happening,” Quade said.

But Quade also said with three weeks remaining in session, anything could happen.

The initiative petition process has been used in prior elections to pass constitutional amendments like Medicaid expansion and legalizing recreational marijuana.

Currently signatures are being collected for petitions that would legalize sports betting, raise the minimum wage and enshrine abortion rights in the constitution.

The move from Republicans to make it harder to amend the constitution is related to the push for abortion to be on the ballot.

Plocher said last session if abortion were to become legal through a constitutional amendment, it was the Senate’s fault, not the House’s, for not passing changes to the initiative petition process.

Asked a similar question on Thursday, Plocher said he can likely blame the Senate for a lot of things mainly because it doesn't pass everything the House passes.

“I think our constitution is a very important document, much like the federal constitution. It's very difficult to amend the federal constitution. I think the voters should be informed, and I don't think it should be amended willy-nilly,” Plocher said.

If the resolution were to pass both chambers, it still would need approval from Missouri voters to go into effect.

Rep. Donna Baringer, D-St. Louis, said she thinks voters are going to show up in droves.

“This may be a regret the Republicans will have because people are going to be angry, and when you're angry you vote,” Baringer said.

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