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Missouri realtors vow to fight GOP push to make it harder to amend state constitution

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Missouri realtors vow to fight GOP push to make it harder to amend state constitution

Jan 24, 2023 | 6:48 pm ET
By Rudi Keller
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Missouri realtors vow to fight GOP push to make it harder to amend state constitution
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Sam Licklider, right, lobbyist for the Missouri Association of Realtors, testifies Tuesday against changes in the initiative petition process (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent).

The Missouri Association of Realtors, an organization that spent millions in recent years on two successful initiative petition campaigns, is warning lawmakers it will oppose anything more than tinkering with the way the constitution is amended by voters.

During testimony Tuesday before the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee, Sam Licklider, lobbyist for the realtors, reminded lawmakers that his organization has members in every legislative district of the state.

“Any changes that need to be made should be measured and minimal,” Licklider said during testimony Tuesday. “If it goes overboard we will be prepared to take such measures as may be required.”

The realtors have the financial power to mount a major campaign against any changes to the initiative process the organization doesn’t like. 

In 2010, the realtors raised $4.4 million to amend the Missouri Constitution to prohibit sales taxes on real estate transfers. That was followed in 2016 by a $5.6 million campaign to prevent lawmakers from extending the sales tax to services.

But Republicans have made overhauling the initiative petition process a top priority for the session. The committee will vote Thursday, Chairwoman Peggy McGaugh, R-Carrollton, said.

On Tuesday, her committee held hearings on five proposals that would alter the initiative process to make it more difficult to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, or more difficult to pass, or both.

Currently, it takes signatures equal to 8% of the voters in six of the state’s eight congressional districts to get an initiative changing the constitution on the ballot. Once certified for the ballot, it takes a simple majority vote to enact the proposal.

The first bill heard Tuesday is similar to proposals that received extensive debate but ultimately failed in last year’s session. Rep. Mike Henderson, R-Bonne Terre, wants to increase the number of signatures to 10% of voters and require that standard be met in every congressional district.

Henderson’s proposal would also increase the majority required for passage of constitutional amendments to two-thirds of the vote from a majority.

“It is my belief the document should be a living document,but not an ever expanding document,” Henderson said.

Other proposals heard Tuesday would:

  • Leave the threshold for making the ballot unchanged but require a majority of voters in at least 82 Missouri House districts as well as a statewide majority to pass.
  • Require signatures equal to 8% of voters in every congressional district and a two-thirds majority to pass and put all constitutional amendments proposed by voters on the general election ballot in November of even numbered years.
  • Set the signature threshold at 7% of voters in every congressional district and increase the majority required to a majority of all registered voters, not just a majority of votes cast. In an election with turnout less than 50%, no initiative could obtain the required majority.

The push to make it more difficult to amend the constitution by initiative has taken on an increasing urgency for Republicans who have watched voters repeatedly enact measures they would not have passed through the General Assembly.

Using the initiative petition process, Missouri voters approved medical marijuana in 2018 and legalized all consumption of marijuana in 2022. A constitutional amendment expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2020 and altered the way legislative districts are drawn in 2018.

Proposals already filed for possible signature-gathering in advance of the 2024 election would raise the minimum wage and enact ranked-choice voting for statewide elections. Abortion rights groups are considering whether to push a Missouri ballot measure, encouraged by a 63% majority that defeated a Kansas proposal to restrict abortion rights.

Few, if any changes are being proposed for initiatives that would change statutes. Missouri lawmakers can repeal or revise statutory ballot measures – and did so in 2011, when the legislature repealed and rewrote puppy mill regulations approved by voters just a year earlier. 

Lengthy proposals that should be statutory enactments are being proposed for the constitution because backers worry that lawmakers will reverse the decision of voters. 

“The statutory amendments are subject to the General Assembly’s whims,” Columbia attorney Dan Viets, who chaired both campaigns for marijuana, told the committee. “The General Assembly has shown time after time that it has little regard for the will of the voters.”

Those lengthy proposals, Henderson said, make it difficult for voters to understand what they are voting on.

“A lot of them feel like they are hoodwinked because they don’t know all that it does,” he said.