July 24, 2014

Supreme Court hears gun rights amendment arguments

The Missouri Supreme Court has heard arguments on whether what appears on next month’s ballot about a proposed gun rights amendment says all it should say.

The Missouri Supreme Court Building in Jefferson City

The Missouri Supreme Court Building in Jefferson City

The Court has been asked to consider whether the title and ballot summary that voters will see next month for Constitutional Amendment 5 tells them enough about what it will do by making gun rights “unalienable.”

Attorney Chuck Hatfield asks whether voters know that would mean holding those rights to the highest legal scrutiny.

“Saying ‘unalienable’ tells us nothing,” argues Hatfield. “It tells the voters nothing about the change that we’re making to the Constitution.”

Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), an attorney, sponsored the measure in the legislature. He argues to the Court that it would put Missouri in line with rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s an individual right that is unalienable. It gets the highest level of review from this court,” says Schaefer. “Basically when this court is presented with those questions, and I can’t speculate on those, what they would be, but it is going to be a decision for this court of what meets that standard and what does not.”

Read the ballot language (scroll down to “Constitutional Amendment 5″)

Attorneys for the state and the backers of the ballot language say the challenge should be tossed out because of a statutory deadline barring changes to ballots within six weeks before an election, and say that absentee ballots have already been cast. They say those ballots could be invalidated if the issue’s language is changed.

Hatfield says it isn’t the job of the Supreme Court to worry about those ballots.

“If this measure passes 70 [percent] to 30 [percent] it won’t matter. If this measure fails 70 [percent] to 30 [percent] it won’t matter,” argues Hatfield. “If it’s close it’s going to matter and we may be back [in front of the Supreme Court], but today it doesn’t matter.”

Additionally, Hatfield says if his clients’ case against that language is ruled to be moot, they will have been disenfranchised because he could not have acted earlier.

“The reason we got here when we did, the reason we got to the trial court before 60 days, is because everyone doubletimed it,” says Hatfield. “The Secretary of State issued their certification early, the Auditor issued their summary statement early, we filed suit on the afternoon of the day that the Secretary certified the initiative, we were in court on the next business day. Your honor, if this case is moot, I don’t know what else to do for my clients.”

The Court is also asked to consider, if it decides ballot language is inadequate, whether it can provide new language or whether it can simply remove the issue from the ballot altogether.

It could issue a ruling at any time.

Highway Commission’s role on Amendment 7, post project list approval

Now that the Highways and Transportation Commission has approved a final project list for the Amendment 7 ballot issue, it’s not going to totally step away from the issue.

“We’re not part of a campaign. That’s left to other people,” says Chairman Stephen Miller of Kansas City, “We’ll be a resource to anyone that needs education about these projects.”

The projects total more than 800, ranging from a stretch of sidewalk in some communities to the $500-million dollar expansion of 200 miles of Interstate 70 from four lanes to six. All of them hinge on voter approval of a three-quarters of one-cent sales tax on August 5. Opponents say that tax increase would disproportionately burden the poorest 20% of Missourians.

Governor Jay Nixon (D) has been one such critic. Asked about Nixon’s opposition, Miller, who was appointed by Nixon, says it is the governor’s prerogative as it is for any Missouri voter, to evaluate the project list and the potential impacts of the tax.

“We’re prepared to let all voices be heard in that process, including our public leaders,” says Miller.

Miller is asked about Governor’ Nixon’s opposition to the transportation tax proposal:


Highway commission approves Amdt 7 project list (link to list)

The State Highways and Transportation Commission has approved a proposed project list for Amendment 7 on the August ballot, which proposes raising the sales tax three-quarters of one percent to pay for transportation projects over ten years.

Transportation Department Chief Engineer Ed Hassinger presents the Amendment 7 project list as MODOT Director Dave Nichols watches.

Transportation Department Chief Engineer Ed Hassinger presents the Amendment 7 project list as MODOT Director Dave Nichols watches.

The 800 projects on the list include replacement of 4 major bridges, improvements to ports, rail, airports, public transportation, pedestrian infrastructure in all 114 counties and the City of St. Louis, and the single biggest project: 500-million dollars to reconstruct I-70 to add a third lane in both directions.

See the list approved Wednesday by the Commission 

The approval means voters can now see what projects the Department of Transportation says it will commit to doing if they approve that tax issue next month, that would generate an estimated 534-million dollars annually for transportation for the next 10 years.

Transportation Department Chief Engineer Ed Hassinger says some projects were taken off the list when local public comment showed that other work would be more important to a region, and says the list includes more specifics and less generality.

Commissioner Joe Carmichael says other projects not on the list might also be undertaken by local governments if Amendment 7 passes and makes them more affordable.

Truth questioned by ACLU lawsuit (AuDIO)

A lawsuit that asks the legislature’s early voting proposal be thrown off the November ballot raises issues of truth….or untruth by omission.  

The legislature’s proposed six-day early voting period was sent to the ballot after thousands of Missourians signed petitions seeking a vote on an early-voting period more than twice as long as the legislature’s proposal.

The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of longtime St. Louis Civil Rights figure Norman Seay by the American Civil Liberties Union.   ACLU Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman says the suit does not want to deny Missourians a chance to vote. But it says they should vote for an honest proposal–which the legislature’s language is not. “The legal matter before the court will be, ‘is the language as drafted by the legislature defective or not; is it misleading?’ And it is in that it states it would permit early voting but it would not. There would not be early voting unless and until there is a legislative appropriation and there’s no indication whether or not that would occur.”

Mittman says it’s not too early to challenge an issue not headed for a vote for four more months. He says it’s never too early to engage the public in discussion of an issue that involves one of the nation’s basic rights.AUDIO: Mittman interview 638

ACLU challenges legislature’s early voting proposal

The American Civil Liberties Union charges the legislature has put a misleading early voting proposal on the November ballot. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit saying the ballot language written by the General Assembly is “untrue.”

The ballot language says, “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to permit voting in person or by mail for a period of six business days prior to and including Wednesday before the election day in all general elections.”
The organization points to a provision reading:

5. No local election authority or other public office shall conduct any activity or incur any expense for the purpose of allowing voting in person or by mail in advance of the general election day unless a state appropriation is made and disbursed to pay the local election authority or other public office for the increased cost or expense of the activity.

The lawsuit maintains that the provision does not guarantee early voting will take place because it will only happen if the legislature appropriates funds for local election authority expenses.

Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman calls the legislature’s resolution “a sham” proposal that tries to “truck voters.”   The bill was passed after a citizen petition was successfully filed establishing an early voting period of thirteen days, more than double the length of time the legislature’s proposal advocates. The legislature’s proposal would not allow early voting on Sunday while the petition issue would allow Sunday voting.

The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Norman Seay, a long-time St. Louis civil rights leader and retired Director of Equal Opportunity for the University of Missouri-St. Louis.