Initiative petition aims to require more signatures

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Fitzpatrick: Special interest groups, people should instead use statutory route

The State House of Representatives has proposed an 87.5 percent increase in signatures needed to amend the Missouri Constitution through initiative petition by the next general election.

State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, has pre-filed a constitutional amendment -- House Joint Resolution 13 -- that would increase the number of signatures required to propose an initiative petition amending the Constitution from 8 percent to 15 percent of legal voters in six of the eight Congressional districts held in the previous general election.

"My concern is when you have an initiative petition that amends the Constitution, there is no vetting process," Fitzpatrick said. "Essentially, what happens is a special interest group or an individual that has the financial ability to basically have an attorney write a new section for the Constitution, and have the financial capability to put enough people out across the state collecting signatures in the Congressional districts to get the question on the ballot, can singlehandedly change the Constitution.

"To me that is pretty concerning. The Constitution should be a sacred document. It should be something that provides guidelines for how we operate our government."

For example, Amendment 3 got on the ballot by initiative petition in the November general elections.

That amendment never went through any type of Legislative vetting process, which is required when the General Assembly proposes constitutional amendments, Fitzpatrick said.

"It was proposed as a way to enact reforms to the way teacher tenure was handled and teacher evaluations were performed," he said. "It was basically a very, very detailed public policy that was going to be put in the Constitution, and it was going to force schools to operate in a certain way."

The amendment could have had drafting errors or unintended consequences, he said.

"The legislative process is not perfect, but you are a lot less likely to get bad policy in the form of a constitutional amendment when it goes through that vetting process than if you are having someone standing in front of Walmart collecting signatures from people who are not even reading the constitutional amendment," Fitzpatrick said.

Missouri is one of 18 states that allows constitutional amendments to be put on the ballot via a person or special interest groups, he said.

"I personally wouldn't mind seeing that process being done away with, because what you end up having happen is something like Amendment 3," Fitzpatrick said. "If it is going to be enacted, it should be enacted in the statute, so that if there is a problem with it, it can be changed quickly by the Legislature."

The Constitution says an initiative petition requires 5 percent of legal voters in six of the eight Congressional districts to change a law instead of 8 percent to amend the Constitution.

"I think that, hopefully, raising the number of signatures required to get a constitutional amendment put on the ballot will possibly entice some of these special interest groups to basically gather signatures by petition and to try and go the statutory route because the signature requirement is so much lower," Fitzpatrick said.

The bill would eliminate all of these frivolous things that get on the ballot just to change the Constitution, said Gary Youngblood, Barry County clerk.

"I don't know if we need to be changing the Constitution that often," Youngblood said.

Each group or person submits the proposed petition to the Missouri Secretary of State's Office. The Attorney General's Office reviews the petition, and the State Auditor's Office prepares a fiscal note and a fiscal note summary. The proposed petition is posted on the Secretary of State's website to allow a minimum of 30 days for public comment.

Within 23 days after approving the proposed petition's form, the Secretary of State's Office drafts a ballot summary statement and sends it to the Attorney General's Office for review. The Attorney General's Office also has to approve the fiscal note and the fiscal note summary.

After the Secretary of State's Office certifies the ballot title, petitioners can collect signatures from registered Missouri voters. They then submit the signatures to the Secretary of State's Office.

"The office distributes copies of the petition pages to local election authorities to verify that the signatures are those of registered Missouri voters in the correct Congressional district," according to state documents.

When people sign petitions, their signatures are public record, Youngblood said.

If the petition has the required number of valid signatures, the Secretary of State's Office issues a certificate of sufficiency, which means the petition will be placed on the ballot for the general election.

The ballot measure requires a simple majority of registered voters to pass it.

On Dec. 2, 2014, State Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, pre-filed a constitutional amendment -- House Joint Resolution 4 -- that would change the vote required to pass a constitutional amendment from a majority vote to 60 percent of the votes cast.

In the November general elections, Missouri voters approved two constitutional amendments proposed by the General assembly, providing a Legislative check on the governor's powers in withholding funds and also allowing relevant evidence of prior criminal acts to be admissible in prosecutions for crimes of a sexual nature involving a victim who is under 18.

Since Missouri became a state in 1821, it has adopted four constitutions, with the most recent one being in 1945.

"Currently, the Missouri Constitution is more than eight times the length of the United States Constitution," said Jason Kander, Missouri secretary of state, in a release that was in the revised January 2013 edition of the Missouri Constitution.

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