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House Democrats seek to protect voters' wishes

House Democrats seek to protect voters' wishes

February 26th, 2019 by Bob Watson in News

Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, at right, listens as Mark Ellebracht, D-Liberty, addresses reporters Monday during a news conference in the House of Representatives Lounge. Quade serves as Minority Floor Leader and also as member of the Democratic Caucus.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

Missouri House Democrats are sponsoring several bills aimed at protecting voters' wishes.

"During an election campaign, opposing political camps work to convince voters to support their side," Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, told reporters Monday. "But, once the voters have acted, their decisions must be respected. When government refuses to follow clearly-stated voter directives, however, democracy itself is threatened."

Quade and other Democrats argue most Republican lawmakers seem set on overturning parts — or all — of the "Clean Missouri" constitutional amendment approved last November by more than 62 percent of the nearly 2.37 million people who cast ballots.

"Democracy will not thrive if the outcome of elections are treated as mere suggestions, that those in power are free to ignore," Quade said.

Requiring supermajorities

State Rep. Robert Sauls, D-Independence, sponsors House Joint Resolution 42 — a proposed constitutional amendment which, he told reporters, "would, essentially, add protections to ballot initiatives" for four years after voters approved a measure.

In the first year, Sauls said, at least three-fourths of lawmakers in each chamber would have to "vote to overturn any (successful) ballot initiative."

In the second and third years, a two-thirds majority would be required.

Finally, in the fourth year, only the current simple majority would be needed.

"In my opinion, this is truly for the people to protect these types of initiatives," Sauls said.

Ethics Commission powers

Rep. Mark Ellebracht, D-Liberty, wants colleagues to pass a bill allowing the Missouri Ethics Commission to launch its own investigations — if all commissioners agree — "when an ethics violation is believed to have been committed," he said. "They currently don't have this authority.

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"And they currently don't have prosecutorial authority which, it's my belief, that they should."

Under current law, if the Ethics Commission believes a law has been violated, they must ask the attorney general or a local prosecutor to file charges — but the prosecutor doesn't have to do so.

"If you break the laws or you act unethically," Ellebracht told reporters, "you should face court action."

'Dark money' reporting

Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, wants to require so-called "dark money" organizations — that is, groups that don't have to identify their donors, such as 501(c)(4) non-profit groups under the federal IRS codes — to report their contributions and observe the same limits other groups must follow to be involved in Missouri political campaigns.

Ellebracht noted states have the power to write laws and regulations that are more strict than the federal ones.

"If a 501(c)(4) participates in largely political activity, then I would think that it's up to the state of Missouri to fashion laws that would allow us to see who their donors are," he said.

Sunshine Law changes

Ellebracht also wants to require lawmakers and other elected officials communicate with the public only through official government forums, or else have their social media sites, like Facebook, be covered by the state's Sunshine Law.

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The "Clean Missouri" amendment required all lawmakers' records be open to the public under the "Sunshine" Law — but some have worried that means constituents' personal information, including their personal issues, can be made public.

Several rule changes have been made, and several bills introduced to change the Sunshine Law, to protect those records.

Quade said Monday that's unnecessary, because the law — first passed in 1973 — includes exemptions to information being released.

"That (information) is already protected," she explained. "We have seen, since (the law's) inception, that other elected officials have been able to redact that information.

"When we have been 'sunshined,' we have redacted personal information."

And constituents' concerns about something like Medicaid simply wouldn't be turned over, she said, because of the existing exemptions.

The Clean Missouri amendment also made changes to the way legislative district lines will be redrawn after the 2020 census, and every 10 years after.

Some lawmakers — including many GOP leaders — have said they don't believe voters understood those provisions.

Ellebracht said that presumption "is offensive to our democracy. It's offensive to logic and it's offensive to us as a body.

"We hold these seats because of the will of the people that put us here — and, then, to question that they didn't know what they were doing is absurd."

Quade and other Democrats acknowledge their 47 House members don't control enough votes to win passage of their bills, nor stop some of the GOP-sponsored bills they oppose.

"A majority of the bills that we bring forward are not going to see any movement," Quade said. "The reason we continue to fight on behalf of voters is, they sent us here to do that.

"It's our job, as representatives, to listen to them."