Mo. lawmaker wants to add fees, gather more signatures for initiative petitions

Updated: Dec. 17, 2019 at 11:50 PM CST
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - Missourians are filing dozens of initiative petitions for the upcoming 2020 general election, but a state senator wants to add upfront costs and raise the standards for each proposal to get on the ballot.

Republican Senator David Sater, who represents counties in southwest Missouri, pre-filed two bills related to the issue on Dec. 1, 2019.

Senate Bill 522 would require the Secretary of State’s office to collect a $500 fee for each petition sample sheet that is filed.

SB 522 also sets up a “Petition’s Publications Fund” which would refund individuals if the petition they filed is certified. The fund would also pay for publication expenses involved with submitting statewide ballot measures to voters.

Senator Sater also sponsored Senate Joint Resolution 1 which nearly doubles the current signature requirement needed from voters in each congressional district.

SRJ 1 would also require constitutional amendments proposed by citizens to be approved by a two-thirds majority of vote for it to pass.

Cape Girardeau voter Eli Bohnert is concerned by the proposed changes and thinks the citizen referendum process already has high standards.

“It would make it quite a bit harder for grass roots movements to get in there and make changes in the state,” Bohnert said. “We don’t see hugely partisan issue on the ballot that often because you need a good composition of people on both sides of the isle to sign these petitions. Medical marijuana and the Clean Missouri Act would not of happened if we had a two thirds majority vote requirement in place.”

More than 300 petitions were sent to the Secretary of State’s office during Missouri’s 2018 midterm election, and only seven initiative made it onto the ballot.

In an interview with The Missouri Times this month, Senator Sater said he wants to protect the state’s Constitution while cleaning up the clutter process.

“We need a thorough yet accessible process for changing our state constitution," Sater said.

Bohnert agreed that it was confusing to have three similar petitions on the same ballot, but thinks there are better solutions to solve the problem.

“I think there is a big difference between making it more simple and making it burdensome," Bohnert said. "How can we make sure voters have the most information about these issues to make sure they have the most informed choice, instead of limiting their choice and making it harder to make their voice heard.”

Jill Young Rickard with League of Women Voters Southeast Missouri, said the nonprofit organization hands out non-partisan materials to educate voters.

She said initiative petitions are another way for voters to participate in democracy.

“The people want a voice,” Young Rickard said. “They want to be actively involved in the election process and to be able to express their opinion at the polls.”

One of the provisions in SJR 1 still allows lawmakers to repeal any amendment adopted through the petition process prior to Dec. 3, 2020 with a simple majority vote.

The Missouri League of Women Voters is planning to testify in Jefferson City next year against several pre-filed bills that are looking to repeal parts of Clean Missouri, one of the petitions that passed in 2018.

“We don’t think they’re fair. Voters voted one way and that should be respected. It’s as if the voters are ignored,” Young Rickard said. “Again our role is to help voters express themselves and get their opinion to stand as opposed to being rejected. We want to keep legislators in check making sure that hear from the voters and we ask people to call and write to their congressman.”

Missouri lawmakers will be back in session to starting discussing proposed legislation on Jan. 8, 2020.

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