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Changing The Missouri Constitution Could Get Harder

 State Rep. Mike Henderson of Bonne Terre speaks in favor of his proposal to make it more difficult to amend the Missouri Constitution.
State Rep. Mike Henderson of Bonne Terre speaks in favor of his proposal to make it more difficult to amend the Missouri Constitution.

The Missouri House approved a ballot item Thursday that would raise the threshold to amend the Missouri Constitution — and increase the number of signatures required to get something on the ballot.

It’s an idea that some Republicans have pushed for years as left-of-center groups have successfully amended the constitution to effectively get around legislators who won’t consider their proposals. The plan is opposed by some conservative and liberal organizations that see it as an impediment to direct democracy.

On a 111-46 vote, the House passed state Rep. Mike Henderson’s amendment that would require two-thirds of voters to change the constitution. Currently, only a simple majority is needed.

It would also raise the number of signatures required to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Currently, a group must collect signatures from 8% of voters in two-thirds of the state’s congressional districts. Henderson’s proposal would change the requirement to 10% in all of the state’s congressional districts.

“I think that is very important,” Henderson said. “They shouldn’t just harvest them from the St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield areas. I think northeast Missouri, northwest Missouri, southeast Missouri and southwest Missouri all deserve to have people come to their area and hear from them.”

If Henderson’s measure had been in effect over the past few election cycles, the Clean Missouri plan to overhaul state legislative redistricting, a 2020 amendment changing that and a constitutional amendment expanding the state’s Medicaid program all would not have passed.

And raising the threshold to amend the constitution would have also meant that the 2014 "Right to Farm" proposal, which was backed by a number of agricultural groups and conservative political figures, would have failed.

State Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said the provision requiring more signatures to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot was a nonstarter for him.

“We’re saying: ‘We really think it should take more of a burden. It should take two-thirds of the vote to change our constitution — but we really want to sneak in this other thing first,’” Merideth said. “We really sneak in this piece about making it harder for voters to access direct democracy.”

Henderson’s proposal now heads to the Senate. Putting it into effect would require a simple majority vote during an election in 2022.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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