With only one "no" vote, the Missouri Senate Wednesday afternoon changed parts of a proposed "Right to Farm" constitutional amendment and sent it back to the House, on a 32-1 vote.
State Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, wants Missouri voters to add language to the state Constitution declaring that "agriculture which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri's economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri's economy, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state."
The House originally passed Reiboldt's proposal on Feb. 28, by a 110-41 margin.
But the House-passed version included language that "no state law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers ... unless enacted by the General Assembly."
Critics have complained that allowing only the Legislature to change the law violated Missourians' current constitutional right to propose changes through initiative petitions.
State Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, added his voice to those critics during Wednesday's debate.
"This limits the freedom of people," Schaaf told Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, who sponsored a similar bill that has not, yet, been debated in the Senate, and who handled Reiboldt's bill during Wednesday's Senate debate.
"Right now, I have the freedom to petition the people when the Legislature won't enact a public policy that I would like them to enact," Schaaf said.
But, Parson told colleagues: "If we're going to make changes in the policy and the procedure, let us do it as legislators.
"You still have the ability, through the initiative process, to change the Constitution, just like we have today."
Late Wednesday afternoon, the Senate agreed with the critics and adopted Ladue Republican John Lamping's amendment stripping the restriction from the proposed constitutional amendment.
Reiboldt told the Senate committee last month the amendment was intended "to protect agriculture - all segments of agriculture and farming."
If the Senate and House agree on the same language, the proposed amendment would go to the Nov. 4, 2014, general election ballot - unless Gov. Jay Nixon schedules it for a different election date.
In asking senators to approve the proposed amendment and send it back to the House, Parson said: "The reason that I think this is so important, in the farming industry, there's only less than 2 percent of the people, who provide food for this country, for this state. ...
"I want the people of Missouri to decide that they want to protect agriculture in this state."