Missouri lawmakers back at work with eye on ballot measures
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers returned to work Wednesday for a session that Republican leaders have said will focus on issues including making it harder to amend the state Constitution.
GOP lawmakers have been trying for years to crack down on ballot initiatives, which have been used to enact policies that the Republican-led Legislature either avoided dealing with or opposed. Most recently, voters legalized recreational marijuana use for adults.
Ballot campaigns have tended to push for such policies to be enacted through constitutional amendments, which are harder for lawmakers to undo. But enshrining policy in the Constitution also makes it more difficult to address unintended consequences.
Republican Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden told colleagues during a Wednesday speech that Missouri’s Constitution has become cluttered with lengthy provisions better suited for state statutes, such as recreational marijuana and a voter-approved measure regulating bingo.
“The threshold for adding or changing our constitution should be higher than a simple majority,” Rowden said, referencing the current vote threshold for passing amendments.
Republicans now are wrestling over whether to make it more challenging for residents to put policies to a public vote in the first place or to increase the percentage of votes needed to pass constitutional amendments.
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade told reporters Wednesday that Democrats will “absolutely not stand for the voices of Missouri citizens to be disenfranchised and to make it harder for them to participate.”
Education polices favored by Republicans this year include proposals to allow schools to enroll out-of-district students, limits on how educators teach children about racism and rules dictating how public schools treat transgender students.
Legislation with bipartisan support includes raising teacher pay, increasing access to child care and expanding Medicaid health care coverage for new mothers.
Democrats want more restrictions on firearms after a 19-year-old gunman forced his way into a St. Louis school and killed two people in October.
Missouri does not have a red-flag law aimed at keeping firearms away from people who may be a danger to themselves or others. As a result, St. Louis police have said they did not have clear authority to temporarily seize the rifle used in the shooting when the gunman’s mother called police to their home days before.
“I would hope that when children die in our public schools that it would change the tone of the conversation,” said Quade, who later added: “I don’t know that it will.”
Without outlining specifics, newly elected House Speaker Dean Plocher called on his colleagues to pass even deeper tax cuts.
Lawmakers just months ago passed legislation to cut income taxes from 5.3% to 4.95% starting this year and phase in additional cuts until the rate hits 4.5%. The new law applies to the top income tax rate, which covers those who make more than about $8,700 a year in taxable income.
“Our citizens are the best stewards of their money, and I believe we can build on the tax cuts from last year’s special session,” Plocher said.
Legislators could cut corporate taxes, which they failed to do during last year’s special session. House Majority Leader Jon Patterson has said Republicans also are concerned about higher property taxes.
Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed to this report.