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Missouri Senate OKs higher bar for constitutional changes

Missouri State Senate
Posted at 5:44 PM, Apr 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-27 18:44:54-04

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri voters would need approval from a majority of the state's congressional districts or a 57% statewide vote to amend the state constitution under a proposal the Senate passed Thursday.

Senators voted 24-10 along party lines in favor of the change, which would go before voters if passed by the House by the May 12 end of session.

Currently, it takes a simple majority to amend the state's constitution, which Republican lawmakers say is too low.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden said the proposal would “protect the constitution” without taking away voters' access to ballot initiatives.

“It doesn't put up barriers that are so high that you can’t do it,” Rowden said.

Voters in recent years have used ballot measures to enact policies that the GOP-led Legislature has either avoided or opposed, such as legal recreational marijuana for adults and expanded access to Medicaid.

Amending the constitution instead of state law also makes it significantly more difficult for lawmakers to undo voter-approved policies, as the Legislature has attempted to do. For example, GOP lawmakers initially refused to fund the voters' Medicaid expansion proposal but finally conceded after the courts ordered they do so.

The Senate-approved policy includes a proposal that addresses criticisms that lawmakers are trying to claw back power from citizens. It suggests a five-year ban on the Legislature amending any voter-approved changes to state law, unless lawmakers approve changes by 57% in both the House and Senate.

“That was an attempt to say, 'Hey, let's tie our own hands a little bit,'" Republican Sen. Sandy Crawford, of Buffalo, told reporters Thursday, "and maybe some of these initiatives will go into law instead of the constitution.”

The proposal now heads to the House, where lawmakers have endorsed a higher 60% threshold for amending the constitution.

House Democratic Minority Leader Crystal Quade said even with the Senate changes, the legislation is “silencing the voice of voters.” But she praised the Senate's proposed limits to block lawmakers from immediately undoing the will of voters.

“We believe that voters should have access to holding us accountable," Quade said.