OUR OPINION: Set higher bar for initiative petition

Reforming Missouri's initiative petition process has been a priority for the last two legislative sessions. This week, those efforts are steps away from being realized.

A measure that would make it tougher to amend the constitution by initiative petitions is one vote away for going to the governor's desk for signing. If he signs it, the measure could be on the November 2024 ballot.

The initiative petition gives Missourians the opportunity to directly participate in government by entrusting them with the power to propose and enact or reject laws and amendments to the constitution outside the power of the General Assembly.

No one disputes the value of the initiative petition in the constitution. The point of contention is how easy or difficult it is to actually use it.

Advocates for the current initiative petition process contend it is far from easy. It takes money, many volunteers and hundreds of hours to gather signatures for the petitions. They contend efforts under way seek to limit the voice of Missourians on subjects that are ignored or stonewalled by the Legislature.

Critics of the current process say there should be a higher bar for passage. The current simple majority requirement has resulted in a bloated constitution that touches on topics that should have been handled as statutes, which would have ensured the new laws were vetted and could be more easily amended should the need arise.

In the last 12 years, the constitution has basically doubled in size due to initiative petitions.

Voters approved the current constitution in February 1945; it was just under 27,000 words long.

In 2006, an initiative petition added an amendment protecting stem cell research; it was about 2,000 words.

In 2018, a medical marijuana amendment added almost 8,000 words.

In 2022, legalization of recreational marijuana added 14,000 words in a new section and added 2,000 more in the medical marijuana section.

This week, the House passed a bill that would redefine how many votes would be needed for passage.

The current threshold, which was set when the state was created in 1821, is a simple majority; the bill being considered would reset the required total to 57 percent majority.

"A simple majority is a good threshold, but not for the constitution," said Speaker Pro Tem Mike Henderson, the sponsor of the bill.

We agree; the constitution should have a higher threshold and 57 percent appears to be a good standard.

But if the goal is to have a constitution that has a short statement of the basic rights of Missourians and the responsibilities of the state and then rely on statutes to address the real concerns of Missourians, then the Legislature must do a better job of being a representative government and letting these ideas be fully discussed during the legislative session.

In recent history, one only needs to look at medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion as examples where there was either a clear disconnect between the will of the people and the actions of the Legislature.

"The reason that people have used it (the initiative petition) through the past," Rep. Eric Woods, D-Kansas City, said, "is because there is a perception that we are not doing our jobs in this body and across the hall to pass policies the people want."

Set a higher bar for the initiative petition, but open the Legislature's doors wider so the concerns of frustrated Missourians can be heard.

-- News Tribune

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