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Lawmakers don't like ballot issue summaries

Lawmakers don't like ballot issue summaries

July 4th, 2012 in News

Supporters of ballot measures dealing with health insurance and the selection of appellate judges are unhappy with how the Missouri secretary of state's office summarized the issues for voters.

Missouri's Republican-controlled Legislature passed both proposals and referred them to the November ballot. This week, Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan approved summaries for each measure because lawmakers did not write their own version. Legislative sponsors of the measures said the summaries are misleading, and at least two GOP leaders pledged to file a lawsuit.

The health care measure would bar Missouri officials from taking steps to create a health insurance exchange without approval from voters or the Legislature. It also would prohibit state departments from taking federal money to prepare for an online insurance marketplace. The federal health care law requires states create a health insurance exchange by 2014 or have one operated for them by the federal government.

Carnahan's summary states: "Shall Missouri law be amended to deny individuals, families, and small businesses the ability to access affordable health care plans through a state-based health benefit exchange unless authorized by statute, initiative or referendum or through an exchange operated by the federal government as required by the federal the health care act?"

Sen. Rob Schaaf, who sponsored the measure, called that summary "totally misleading" and "disgusting." He questioned who would vote in favor of it based upon the description.

"It's totally playing politics, and it's lying to the voters," said Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

Carnahan spokesman Ryan Hobart defended the fairness of the ballot summaries.

"This office has always followed our legal obligation to provide Missourians with fair and sufficient summaries of ballot initiatives, and this summary is no different," Hobart said.

Nonetheless, Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and state Sen. Scott Rupp each said they plan to challenge Carnahan's summary for the health insurance measure. Rupp, who is among the Republicans running for secretary of state, said the summary is "extremely biased" and that a lawsuit is the only option. Another Republican secretary of state candidate, Rep. Shane Schoeller, objected to the ballot summaries for both the health care and courts proposals.

The measure dealing with the state's judiciary would amend the Missouri Constitution to change the composition of a special state commission that nominates candidates for vacancies on state appellate courts

Under Missouri's current judge selection plan, a nominating commission comprised of three attorneys, three gubernatorial appointees and a Supreme Court judge submit a panel of three finalists for the governor to fill vacancies on the state Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. Whomever the governor appoints stands for periodic retention elections, in which people decide whether to keep the judge in office without another candidate appearing on the ballot.

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow governors to appoint an additional member to the nominating commission. The Supreme Court judge currently serving on the panel would be removed and replaced with a former appellate judge serving as a nonvoting member. In addition, the nominating commission would give the governor four finalists from which to choose for the appointment.

Carnahan's summary states: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to change the current nonpartisan selection of supreme court and court of appeals judges to a process that gives the governor increased authority to:

• appoint a majority of the commission that selects these court nominees; and

• appoint all lawyers to the commission by removing the requirement that the governor's appointees be nonlawyers?"

Sen. Jim Lembke, who sponsored the constitutional amendment in the Legislature, said a case could be made for the first portions of the summary, but that final point is "flat-out untrue." He said governors would have the ability to appoint more lawyers to the nominating commission, but that nothing would require it.

"She misuses her power to manipulate the process, and I believe that this is more evidence that she's been a dishonest broker of partisan politics," said Lembke, R-St. Louis County.