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GOP fighting, 50-hour Democratic filibuster kill push to make amending Missouri Constitution harder

Missouri Legislature
Posted at 1:36 PM, May 17, 2024

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — GOP infighting and a record-breaking, 50-hour Democratic filibuster appear to have killed a Republican push to make amending Missouri's constitution harder, an effort in part aimed at thwarting an upcoming ballot measure on abortion-rights.

The GOP-led Senate adjourned Friday morning — nearly eight hours before the 6 p.m. deadline for lawmakers to pass legislation this year — without passing what was a top priority for Republicans this year.

The Senate's early departure came after Democrats spent Monday, Tuesday and half of Wednesday blocking all work in hopes of pushing Republicans to strip a ban on noncitizens voting, which is already illegal in Missouri, from the proposed constitutional amendment.

Without the votes to force Democrats to sit down, the Republican bill sponsor on Wednesday ended the filibuster by instead asking the House to pass a version without the noncitizen voting language. The House refused.

The House could take up another measure to raise the bar for amending the constitution Friday.

But House Speaker Dean Plocher told reporters that lawmakers in that chamber will not do so because that legislation does not contain language against noncitizens voting on constitutional amendments.

He predicted voters would not support an effort to limit their own power at the polls if the amendment did not also bar noncitizen voting.

“The Senate sent to the House a stripped-down version that was so weak that it would ultimately fail if put on the ballot," Plocher said in a statement.

The House is expected to pass another amendment Friday to ban both ranked-choice voting and noncitizen voting.

Republicans wanted to put the proposed change to the initiative petition process before voters in August, with some hoping that voters would approve the higher threshold for amending the constitution before an expected November vote on abortion rights.

Missouri banned almost all abortions immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022 overturned Roe v. Wade. The pending amendment would enshrine abortion in the constitution and only allow lawmakers to regulate it after viability.

Some Republicans have argued that to block the abortion amendment, it is necessary for voters in August to change the current 51% approval statewide requirement for amending the constitution.

The GOP wants to make it so amendments need support from 51% of voters in a majority of congressional districts as well. It’s part of an effort to give more weight to voters in rural areas that trend more Republican compared to the state’s big cities.

“Unfortunately, this Republican Party has no backbone to fight for what is right and for life,” said Republican Sen. Rick Brattin, who leads the Freedom Caucus faction in the Senate. “That’s what this fight has been about all along: protecting life.”

Republicans and Democrats have raised doubts about whether courts would apply the new rules somewhat retroactively to November initiative petitions, which were proposed under the current rules.

“The notion that IP reform being on the ballot's the magic bullet to make sure that the abortion IP doesn’t pass is ridiculous,” Senate Republican President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden told reporters Friday.

Efforts to change the initiative petition process are not all centered on abortion.

Missouri Republicans have been trying for years to put stricter limits on constitutional amendments, arguing that policies such as the legalization of recreational marijuana, approved by voters in 2022, should not be included in the constitution.