Missouri Senate Republicans pledge procedural move to get voting reform on ballot

Bill would place a proposal on the ballot asking voters to change approval of constitutional amendments.
Missouri state capitol

The final week of Missouri’s 2024 legislative session might start with a filibuster by Senate Democrats and feature Republicans using a rare procedural move.

Debate on a bill to change how votes would be counted when amending the state constitution will begin the week, Senate Majority Floor Leader Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, told reporters on Thursday.

“We intend to bring it back up on Monday at noon,” said O’Laughlin.

Senate Joint Resolution 74, called initiative petition reform, would place a proposal on the ballot asking voters to change approval of constitutional amendments from a simple majority to a simple majority and a majority in five of the state’s eight congressional districts. The resolution passed out of the House 104-48 on April 25.

Republicans made initiative petition (IP) reform a priority last session, but it died in the Senate. Republicans stated groups working to enshrine abortion in the constitution would be successful unless voters changed the majorities for approval. Last week, more than 380,000 signatures were submitted to place the abortion amendment on the November ballot.

House and Senate Democrats criticized the language that would describe the change, called “ballot candy” by both parties. Instead of starting with information on how a vote for the initiative would then require a majority vote both statewide and in a majority of congressional districts, the ballot starts with how it would allow only U.S. citizens to vote on constitutional amendments and forbid foreign countries from funding the amendments. Both are currently in state law.

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said Democrats would conduct a filibuster to stop the legislation and there’s no area to compromise.

“It's going to be incredibly difficult to undo the damage that they would do to the initiative petition process if they were able to put ballot candy on there to seed voters, put it into the Constitution, raise the threshold – that's hard to undo,” Rizzo said. “I really believe that there's not a conversation. … After they've gotten the signatures to put the abortion issue on the ballot, they could be raising the threshold and then enshrining abortion rights into the constitution. So maybe we should have a conversation, but we're not because we don't feel like we should deceive voters and that's what it might take.”

A procedural tactic to force a vote, called a motion for the previous question (or PQ), is rarely used in the Senate to promote decorum. However, Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, and a candidate for the GOP nomination for treasurer, said O’Laughlin communicated how the week will proceed.

“We have assurance from the floor leader that we will stay on IP until either the PQ is used, we finish without a PQ or the session ends, one of those three options,” Koenig, a member of the Freedom Caucus, said and then added, “No, we’re not going to strip the ballot candy off.”

When the House passed the resolution, Senate sponsor Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, and a candidate for the GOP nomination for secretary of state, said she didn’t foresee using the procedural move.

“I have no plans to make a motion for moving the previous question at this time,” Coleman said. “There’s a lot of time left in the session and a lot of conversations to be had and I’m hopeful that we’re able to find a resolution through this chamber.”