Lawmakers look to place restrictions on the petition process

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JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers are considering regulating the initiative petition process, though the constitutionality of doing so is questionable.

Missouri allows citizens to place measures on the ballot that can amend the constitution or a state statute. There are conflicting rulings in federal appeals courts across the country on the legality of various regulations, several of which are being proposed by Missouri lawmakers.

House Bill 1842, proposed by Rep. Jay Houghton, R-Martinsburg, includes four new regulations. Petition circulators would be required to wear a name tag indicating whether they are paid, and it would be illegal to pay them based on the number of signatures gathered. Circulators would also have to be Missouri residents and registered voters.

Every regulation in the bill has been challenged in federal courts across the country. Houghton said that the courts, not the legislative body, will decide if the bill is constitutional.

"If you’re going to influence how business in Missouri is conducted, you should be a resident of Missouri," Houghton said.

At a hearing last week , Houghton said that no specific incident prompted him to propose this legislation.

Shannon Cooper, a representative of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, spoke in favor of the bill, saying that the number of people involved in agriculture in Missouri is decreasing, and he’s fearful of other groups coming in from out of state. Representatives from the Missouri Farm Bureau and the Missouri National Education Association also spoke in favor of the bill.

Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, discussed the need to eliminate "frivolous" initiative petitions, which he said clog the system and cause more work for the Secretary of State's office.

Lobbyist Woody Cozad spoke in opposition of the restrictions. He cited concerns about business owners who reside in different states but own businesses in Missouri. Although these business owners would not meet the proposed residency requirement to circulate a petition, Cozad argued that Missouri laws still affect them. He also cited concerns about constitutionality, saying that although the small individual regulations on the initiative petition process are constitutional, as a package they are not.

“Inch by inch, we are getting rid of the initiative petition,” Cozad said.

According to Cozad, the biggest threat to the initiative petition is banning paying petition circulators by the signature.

But Rep. Nick Marshall, R-Parkville, said paying petition circulators by the signature causes "badgering." Marshall also said he is concerned about the ethics of a pay-by-the-signature profit model, comparing it to paying judges by the warrant or police officers by the ticket.

Cozad argued it is almost impossible to amend the constitution using volunteers, and that the alternative, paying by the hour, has doubled the cost in other states and unmotivated petition circulators.

HB 1424 and HB 1847 were discussed in the same hearing. Sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Roeber, R-Lee's Summit, HB 1424 involves school board elections. Beginning in 2020, the bill would move the elections to the November general election in the hopes of increasing voter turnout, saving money by consolidating the election and preventing corruption that can occur in low-turnout elections.

Mike Reid from the Missouri School Board Association spoke in opposition of the bill, saying he wanted to keep partisan politics out of school board elections. Scott Kimble from the Missouri Association of School Administrators also spoke in opposition, with the concern that having the vote at the same time as a presidential election would increase the cost of running for the school board and result in a chilling effect.

HB 1857, sponsored by Schaul, would compress the election schedule for local elections, among other measures. Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft testified in favor of the bill, saying he met with many local election authorities around the state to discuss this and other concerns.

HB 1233 was set to be discussed on the same day but was not covered due to time constraints. Sponsored by Rep. Dan Stacy, R-Blue Springs, the bill changes the requirements for independent candidates to get on the ballot.

Currently, 10,000 signatures are required for a candidate to run for statewide office. Under this bill, the required number of signatures would be 2 percent of Missouri’s registered voters, which currently would increase the number of required signatures to 81,756. The bill would also change the requirement for a county or district office candidate. Instead of obtaining signatures from either 2 percent of actual voters or 10,000 people, whichever is less, candidates would be required to obtain signatures from 2 percent of registered voters in the county or district.

for a county or district office it would change from either 2 percent of actual voters or 10,000 people, whichever is less, to from the lesser of 2 percent of actual voters for a particular office or 10,000 persons2 percent of the registered voters in the county or district.

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.

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