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Minimum wage, payday loan petitions submitted

Supporters of raising Missouri’s minimum wage and limiting payday loans submitted petitions Sunday to get the separate measures on the November ballot, beating this weekend’s deadline to turn in signatures.

Advocates submitted petition signatures Friday to get a proposed increase in the state’s cigarette tax on the November ballot.

The proposed minimum wage increase would put Missouri’s minimum pay at $8.25 an hour starting in 2013, with an annual cost-of living adjustment in subsequent years. However, if the federal minimum wage were to rise above the state rate, then Missouri would adopt the federal wage and apply cost-of-living adjustments to that.

Missouri Jobs with Justice, a backer of the minimum wage proposal, said it submitted 175,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office. The same organization supported a successful campaign in 2006 to approve a ballot measure that raised Missouri’s minimum wage to $6.50 with increases when living costs go up.

The payday loan proposal would limit annual rates on short-term loans to 36 percent, including interest, fees and finance charges. Supporters said they submitted 180,000 signatures, but it remained unclear how many actually would count because of a court ruling last month striking down the ballot title for the proposal.

A state trial judge ruled the ballot summary for the payday loan measure was insufficient, unfair and likely to deceive voters and directed the state auditor’s office to prepare a new cost estimate. Missouri law states that signatures on petition pages without the official ballot title cannot be counted as valid.

Edward Greim and Chuck Hatfield, attorneys for two different groups of plaintiffs who successfully challenged the ballot title on the payday loan initiative, issued a statement Sunday afternoon calling for the petition to be rejected.

“On April 6, 2012, a circuit court judge ruled the ballot title in this petition to be invalid and deceptive to voters,” the statement said. “Despite that ruling, Missourians for Responsible Lending continued to deceive voters and collect signatures. We call on the secretary of state to honor the circuit court’s ruling and reject the signatures immediately.”

The lending measure would affect payday loans and other types of short-term loans that are secured by vehicle titles or other means. Supporters of stricter interest limits contend they can be costly when people in difficult financial situations roll the loans over multiple times.

Opponents of the ballot measure contend people sometimes need a short-term loan and that industry fulfills that requirement. They said setting too low an interest rate would force lenders out of business.

“While we have confidence the court’s decision that invalidated their petition will be upheld on appeal, we also know in the meantime an active challenge to their signatures is needed due to a pattern of abuse of the electoral process that has already been documented,” Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity said in a statement.

The group said it would vet the signatures and examine various tactics used to gather signatures for potential violations.

A study completed by the Missouri Division of Finance in January 2009 found the average payday loan was for $290 and the average annual interest rate was 431 percent.

The proposal would raise Missouri’s tax on cigarettes to 90 cents per pack up from the current 17 cents, which is the lowest in the nation. It also would increase taxes on other tobacco products while steering the additional money to education and smoking cessation and prevention programs.

The measure’s backers, which include the American Cancer Society, said they submitted nearly 220,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office. To make the ballot, the proposal must garner between 91,818 and 99,600 valid signatures from registered voters. It will be up to local election officials to verify signatures and the secretary of state’s office to certify the measure for the ballot.

However, a trial judge in Cole County is scheduled to consider a legal challenge to the ballot summary for the tobacco tax today.To make the ballot, organizers need signatures equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the 2008 governor’s election from six of Missouri’s nine congressional districts. That would be 91,818 to 99,600 signatures, depending on the congressional districts targeted.

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