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Judge orders Missouri attorney general to process abortion initiative petitions

by Ryan Pivoney | June 20, 2023 at 12:20 p.m.
In this Aug. 31, 2016 file photo, Judge Jon Beetem asks questions of attorneys during a case in Cole County Circuit Court.

A Cole County judge ruled Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey did not have authority to stall initiative petitions over summary language he disagreed with.

Cole County Judge Jon Beetem handed down his ruling Tuesday and ordered Bailey to approve the legal content and form of fiscal notes for 11 initiative petitions and send them to the state auditor within 24 hours. Each of the 11 initiative petitions, if approved by voters, would create a right to an abortion in the Missouri Constitution.

Madeline Sieren, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said he intends to appeal the decision.

Tori Schafer, deputy director for policy and campaigns at ACLU of Missouri, said the legal advocacy group wasn’t done either.

“While the court’s decision is welcomed, we know this is only the first stop to give Missourians the opportunity to vote on a proposal that would enshrine access to reproductive health care,” she said in a news release.

State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick prepared a fiscal note summary that stated the abortion-rights initiative petitions would have no cost to the state or local governments. Bailey refused to sign off on the assessment because he said the fiscal note tally should be in the billions, according to reporting from the Missouri Independent.

The standoff turned what’s normally a 54-day certification process into one that lasted more than 100 days.

ACLU of Missouri brought the lawsuit against the state attorney general, state auditor and secretary of state after they missed a deadline to publish ballot titles. It argued during the June 7 trial that Bailey’s refusal to approve the auditor’s fiscal note summary was an abuse of power.

“In recent months, the Attorney General has unveiled a reckless desire to impose his will on Missourians’ access to health care by violating the constitutional bounds the people of the state have granted the office to which he was appointed,” Tony Rothert, director of integrated advocacy for ACLU of Missouri, said in a news release. “His illegal actions have obstructed the statutorily prescribed timeline twice over, showing a depth of antipathy towards our right to direct democracy in an attempt to prevent Missourians from voting for their reproductive freedom.”

Without approval from state officials, organizers could not gather signatures to get the initiative petitions on the ballot. Following Beetem’s ruling, the Secretary of State’s Office can certify the ballot title, summary statement and fiscal note summary and organizers can start collecting signatures.


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