Democracy is all well and good, but when it comes to the constitutional amendment process and the initiative petition process in Missouri, we might be overdoing it.
The Secretary of State’s website lists 21 initiative petitions (proposed changes in the law or the constitution, now being circulated for signatures). Seven of them propose changes to the constitution and the rest are statutory. Several of the constitutional amendments are godawful.
I’ve already written about the one to ban affirmative action, the one to reverse what we passed in ’06 allowing stem cell research, and the two that so severely restrict abortion that the changes would amount to a ban. Another one proposes fifty percent tax credits, above and beyond those already allowed by law, for any contribution to a non-profit organization. Estimated cost to the state would be … brace yourself: $5 billion.
And that’s just what the citizens are proposing. Legislators are also busy trying to get Joint Resolutions passed for constitutional amendments to be voted on this November.
State Senator Brad Lager, who is the Republican running for State Treasurer, sees no irony in a would-be Treasurer proposing (S.J.R. 49) that the state prohibit all state or local income taxes after 2023.
H.J.R. 55, sponsored by no less than twenty reps, pretends that we need an amendment to keep school officials from preventing students from praying privately. Excuse me, but how could teachers or principals do that, even supposing they wanted to? (“Tommy, your eyes are closed and your hands are folded. You must be praying. You’re assigned a detention.”)
And here’s the part that drives me batty: H.J.R. 55 passed in the House with only eleven negative votes. Democrats are so scared of offending Christians that they don’t have the balls to vote against a patently silly piece of pandering.
This state has never had so many–and so many dangerous–proposals for the general election ballot. What can we do?
An editorial in the Springfield News Leader complains that:
The constitution should be a broad document that guides state lawmakers, not a flimsy sheet of paper to be rewritten at a whim.
The News Leader praises a bill by Representative Parsons
that would require earlier registration of those citizens who pass petitions. It would also require those folks to be Missouri residents. [Attention:Ward Connerly of affirmative action infamy and David Reardon of abortion bill folly.]
But Parsons’ bill fails to focus on the most important problem, and that is that constitutional changes can pass by a simple majority.
If lawmakers truly want to limit constitutional changes to the big ideas that matter, they’ll also pass Rep. J.C. Kuessner’s HJR 40, which would require a 60 percent supermajority for constitutional amendments to become law. That change, more than any other, is the key to protecting the constitution from not only the outside forces who seek to affect our state’s policies, but also from lawmakers’ occasional political whims.
If Parsons’ bill passes, for instance, but Kuessner’s doesn’t, there will be no higher barrier to lawmakers themselves putting constitutional amendments on the ballot. Our current General Assembly has been too willing to do that – witness recent House votes on both English-only and public prayer amendments, both of which are unnecessary and would do little to actually change the way business is conducted in Missouri.
I can certainly understand the News Leader’s frustration, but consider that three of the amendments proposed by citizens are, from our point of view, necessary. One calls for paper ballots instead of touchscreen voting machines. Two of them seek to restore what our constitution used to require in eminent domain actions, before unwise changes to the constitution turned eminent domain into a way to swipe private property from rightful owners and turn it over to developers.
Mary Mosley, a lobbyist in Jeff City for NOW and the Missouri Women’s Network, insists that those amendments are only necessary because the legislature isn’t doing its job. If the reps and senators would pass a law requiring paper ballots and would pass stringent measures to forestall eminent domain abuses, the citizens taking action would be spared the trouble. But since the lege is not taking care of business properly, she opposes making it harder to pass amendments.
Even if the reps and senators were doing a better job, though, consider that the Jane Cunninghams, Brad Lagers, and other right wing screwballs would still have the right to propose ditsy or dangerous ideas like eliminating the income tax, protecting silent prayer, and requiring that voters have photo I.D.s (H.J.R. 48).
A 60 percent standard would make it hardly worth their while to introduce such nonsense. It’s tempting. But until the legislature is not only in the hands of Democrats, but responsible Democrats at that, Ds who would pay attention to the eminent domain issue and the touchscreen problems, I can’t see hogtying citizens trying to do what needs doing.
Oh well. If we don’t require a supermajority and if this fad continues, voters may settle the matter informally. They might just get disgusted with the sheer volume of proposed amendments and form the habit of voting no as a matter of course.