By Don Corrigan
Environmentalists are among those opposed to actions by the Missouri legislature to cripple the initiative process in the state. They say the initiative process is often the only way to get environmental protections enacted in Missouri.
In the past, environmental groups have used the process on issues such as renewable energy and the financing of nuclear power facilities. In Missouri, these groups have included the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and the Sierra Club.
The initiative process has been dubbed as a “will of the people” mechanism. That’s because measures are approved by a statewide majority of voters, rather than passed by lawmakers in the statehouse where they can be beholden to special interests..
In this year’s session in Jefferson City, lawmakers have seemed determined to codify their disdain for the grassroots democracy of initiatives placed on the ballot by petition.
Legislators have introduced a slew of proposals to effectively nullify state voters’ use of the initiative petition process. They are intent on erecting hurdles that make it virtually impossible for residents to put proposals on the state ballot.
In January, despite overwhelming opposition – 96 percent of committee testimony opposed one such nullification bill – the Missouri House proceeded anyway to rush out approval of a bill to undermine the initiative petition process.
The Missouri House Committee on Elections and Elected Officials heard five bills on Jan. 24, and voted four of the attacks on the petition process out for consideration. The action was taken even as testimony opposing the bills ran five-to-one against the supportive comments.
In February, unhappy constituents lined up in a capitol hearing, one after another, to describe the state initiative petition process as “direct, pure democracy” that should not be thrown in the trash bin of Missouri statehouse history.
Media Voice Concerns
Missouri’s media outlets also have come out swinging against the legislature’s insistence on quashing the ballot initiative process. They note that voters have used the initiative process for Medicaid expansion, medical marijuana, a minimum wage hike, collective bargaining protections and use of renewable energy.
“The argument for tightening the initiative petition process is based on the mistaken assumption that it is too easy now to get a measure passed. It isn’t,” declared the Joplin Globe on Jan. 22. “Most measures that are attempted don’t succeed.
“Medicaid expansion is a good example of why we need this,” the Globe continued. “It was evident for a long time that Missourians favored this, yet it got nowhere in Jefferson City, so voters took the matter into their hands, putting the amendment on the ballot, and then approving it 53% to 47%, bypassing lawmakers altogether.”
Both the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Kansas City Star have published strongly worded opinion pieces against the legislature’s moves to sabotage citizen ballot initiatives. Many papers around the state, including the Columbia Missourian and Columbia Tribune, ran op-eds opposing the attacks on the voters’ will.
The on-line Kansas City Beacon stressed how many important issues only saw the light of day precisely because citizens got out and worked to get signed petitions necessary to get measures on the ballot. The Beacon noted that in recent years, lawmakers have altered or jettisoned laws and constitutional changes approved by voters.
In 2010, Missourians approved a ballot measure to enact tighter restrictions on puppy mills. In the spring session following that vote, the animal protections were repealed or watered down by the state legislature.
A similar reversal came in 2020 after Missourians passed Clean Missouri, a far-reaching ethics ballot measure, which was opposed by state politicians. It was later repealed after the legislature took steps to insure a reversal.
The Kansas City Beacon noted that Missouri does not need to make it even harder for the citizens to express their will at the ballot box. Rather, Missouri needs to pass a bill to guard the people’s will after it is articulated and affirmed by state voters. The reversals need to stop.
In its Dec. 13, 2022 piece, the Beacon cited a bill introduced by Rep. Joe Adams of St. Louis to guard against reversal of the people’s will. Under Adams’ bill, no measure approved by voters could be amended, watered down or repealed by state legislators.
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