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Lawmakers put 8 proposed amendments on ballot

Kander’s office working to see if 2 petition proposals will be added

Missouri voters could be asked in November to vote on up to 10 proposed changes to the state Constitution — and the General Assembly is responsible for eight of those requests.

Secretary of State Jason Kander’s staff is going through the process of certifying the signatures on two initiative petitions submitted to his office May 4.

If the petitions have enough valid signatures from at least six of the state’s eight congressional districts, they also would be placed on the Nov. 4 general elections ballots — but Gov. Jay Nixon has the power to set a special election for one or more of the Legislature’s proposals, so he could decide to move one or more of those issues to the Aug. 5 primary election.

The two General Assembly-approved measures passed last year already have been numbered:

• Constitutional Amendment 1 would protect the “right to farm and ranch.” Backed by numerous agriculture groups, supporters say the amendment is needed because of threats aimed at ending “traditional” agriculture — especially livestock production. Opponents argue its passage would prohibit free speech rights and would grant protection to one industry that other industries would not have.

• Constitutional Amendment 2, allowing someone’s prior criminal record to be used as evidence in prosecuting sexual assault cases where the victim was under 18. Under current rules of evidence, a person’s prior criminal history rarely can be used in a trial, and only if there’s a direct connection to the alleged crime that is part of a criminal proceeding.

The secretary of state’s “Fair Ballot Language” for the amendment explains that it would allow evidence of prior criminal acts, whether charged or uncharged, to be considered by courts in prosecutions of sexual crimes that involve a victim under 18, under limited conditions.

And the judge keeps the authority to exclude the evidence if the possibility of unfair prejudice to the person charged outweighs the value of the information.

The half-dozen amendments that lawmakers added this year would:

• Protect electronic communications from unreasonable search and seizures. Americans already have that protection for property, including their homes and vehicles. The amendment would extend the protection to portable devices and computers, would require a search warrant issued only if there’s probable cause for the search.

• Define the “right to bear arms” as an “unalienable” right in Missouri’s Constitution. The state Constitution already protects a person’s right “to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property, or when lawfully summoned in aid of the civil power …”

• Require the Lottery Commission to sell a “Veteran’s Lottery Ticket” to raise money for Veteran’s Commission construction projects. If passed, the Missouri Lottery would have to begin selling the “Veteran’s Lottery Ticket” by July 1, 2015.

• Raise the state’s sales tax by 3/4 of a cent, for 10 years, to pay for road and bridge improvements and other transportation-related needs. With one of the nation’s lowest taxes on motor fuels sold, and one of the nation’s largest system of state-owned roads and bridges, the state Transportation department has been saying for several years it needs more money, or it won’t be able to keep up even with routine maintenance issues. The proposed tax is expected to generate $480 million a year for state projects, and another $54 million each year for cities’ and counties’ needs.

Opponents have argued sales taxes most hurt the state’s poorest people, and that any increase should have come from fuel taxes or another source more directly related with transportation.

• Limit the governor’s ability to propose state budgets and withhold funds from those budgets once the Legislature approves them, and allows lawmakers to override a withholding in the same manner as any other proposed law.

The Constitution now says the governor each year is to propose an itemized budget and show the “estimated available revenues” as well as any new “laws necessary to provide revenues sufficient to meet the expenditures.”

After lawmakers pass a budget and the governor has signed it into law or vetoed specific line-items, the Constitution says he has the power to “control the rate at which any appropriation is expended …” and the power to “reduce the expenditures of the state or any of its agencies below their appropriations whenever the actual revenues are less than the revenue estimates upon which the appropriations were based.”

The proposed amendment follows lawmakers’ complaints that Nixon has withheld money in several different budgets, even when the revenues were more than enough to cover the authorized expenses.

State Auditor Tom Schweich said last Friday, in a statement, he supports giving voters “the opportunity to give the Missouri General Assembly a check” on the governor’s withholding powers.

Nixon told reporters last week: “We have a long history in this state of governors having the authority to make the final call.”

• Allow “early voting” for six week days in the two weeks before the actual election.

Currently, voters can vote with absentee ballots ahead of an election, only if they have a reason why they won’t be able to go to the polls on election day. The Legislature would allow people to go to the local election authority’s office — in outstate Missouri, the county clerk’s office — during regular business hours, from the Wednesday that’s two weeks before the election to the Wednesday just one week before the election, and with no “early” voting available on evenings or weekends.

The lawmaker’s proposal would affect only a general election, and is subject to appropriations each year.

It could compete with an initiative petition proposal that would require early voting for six weeks before any federal or state election, and would include evening and weekend hours.

Under the Constitution, if both issues are on the same ballot, the one getting most votes is the one that goes into effect.

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