Missouri’s Secretary of State says initiative petition reform remains his top priority for the 2019 legislative session in Jefferson City.
The House Democratic Leader is critical of proposed changes to the initiative petition process, saying “House Democrats will not allow the voices of Missouri voters to be silenced.”
Under current Missouri statute, it takes a simple majority to amend the state Constitution. GOP Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft tells Missourinet he’d like to see that increased to anywhere between 60 percent to a two-thirds majority.
“Well we commonly have 30 percent turnout in our primary elections, so that means that only 15 percent of the voters are deciding what our (state) Constitution is,” Ashcroft says. “I think that’s ridiculous.”
The Missouri House Elections and Elected Officials Committee is scheduled to hear testimony on Wednesday morning on a proposed constitutional amendment from State Rep. Chrissy Sommer, R-St. Charles, which would require initiative petitions to receive a two-thirds majority vote for passage.
Secretary Ashcroft says too many frivolous petitions are being filed.
He says 371 initiative petitions have been filed during the past two years, adding that the number was less than 100 about a decade ago. Ashcroft supports a refundable filing fee.
“The idea here is if you’re going to file 60 of them but you have to pay $500 per (initiative petition), you won’t file 60 of them. But at the same time, we don’t want to stop people that are serious, that are actually going to try to get signatures,” says Ashcroft.
The House committee is also scheduled to hear testimony Wednesday on legislation from State Rep. John Simmons, R-Washington, which would authorize Ashcroft’s office to collect a $350 filing fee for initiative petitions, which would be refunded if the petition qualifies for the statewide ballot within two years after a summary is prepared.
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, is blasting the filing fee proposals, saying that “sometimes direct democracy is the only way to achieve progress when an unresponsive Legislature refuses to act on important issues.” Quade is blasting what she calls “the Republican assault on direct democracy.”
Ashcroft tells Missourinet that if the state Constitution is going to be amended, it must be widely agreed on.
“Just be honest, there are people that want to be able to buy the laws they want, and if they have a couple of million dollars they know they can get it on the ballot and if they spend a couple of million more dollars, they’ve got a 30 to 50 percent chance of getting it passed,” Ashcroft says.
Leader Quade issued a news release on Tuesday afternoon, noting that the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee will be considering ten pieces of legislation on Wednesday. Quade says the ten proposals will “make it nearly impossible for Missourians to use the initiative petition process to enact laws independently of the legislature.”
Quade says “an attack on the initiative process is an attack on democracy itself.”
Quade notes many significant constitutional amendments or statutory changes have been placed on Missouri’s statewide ballot by initiative petition and approved by voters. Quade cites the 1976 vote authorizing a constitutionally dedicated statewide sales tax to fund the Missouri Department of Conservation, the 1980 Hancock Amendment and the 2018 Clean Missouri proposal.
Click here to listen to Missourinet news director Brian Hauswirth’s full nine-minute interview with Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, which was recorded on March 20, 2019 at the Kirkpatrick Building in Jefferson City: