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Missouri legislature tampers with voter initiatives

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 3, 2010 - It is a rare -- but not altogether unknown -- occurrence when the Missouri Legislature tries to undermine voter-approved initiatives. This could happen again when lawmakers reconvene in January and pick apart Proposition B, which places stricter regulations on dog breeders.

Proposition B was narrowly approved by voters Nov. 2, winning big in urban areas but with strong opposition in rural areas. Scheduled to take effect next November, it limits breeders to no more than 50 breeding dogs, creates a misdemeanor crime for violations and requires breeders to provide sufficient food, water, housing, space and regular exercise.

Rep. Ed Schieffer of Troy is one of those lawmakers who want to change Proposition B. The Beacon previously reported that Schieffer said he is going to vote according to his district. Proposition B failed in his 11th District.

"What I think you're seeing, more than anything, with the calls to repeal Prop. B, is an example of the rural-urban split in Missouri," said Marc Powers, spokesman for the House Democrats, in a telephone interview. "There are some interesting parallels between the reaction to the passage of the puppy mill measure and the reaction to the defeat of conceal-carry in 1999."

Earnings Tax

Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis, has filed legislation that would make what she calls "a minor change" to Proposition A, which required St. Louis and Kansas City to hold renewal votes on their earnings taxes every five year.

According to the explanation Jones has on her legislative website, "One unintended consequence of Proposition A is the short intervals between renewal votes could make it substantially more expensive for the cities to sell bonds for needed infrastructure improvements since potential bondholders could be reluctant to invest in St. Louis or Kansas City given the possibility that either city might lose a substantial portion of its revenue should voters not renew its earnings tax and be unable to repay the bonds."

Under Jones' proposal, the time between votes would be 20 years. The first vote is set to be held this coming April.

Conceal Carry

The measure to allow people to apply for concealed firearm permits failed by nearly 52 percent in April 1999. However, the Missouri Legislature approved similar legislation in 2003.

"In 1999, conceal-carry passed in all but a handful of outstate counties but failed statewide due to strong opposition in urban regions," Powers said. "In continuing to push conceal-carry in the Legislature after voters rejected it, supporters justified pursuing it anyway based on the fact that most areas of the state favored conceal-carry, while basically ignoring that most actual voters were against it."

"I think we're starting to see the same argument with the puppy mill law with rural opponents arguing that because it failed in all but a few counties, the fact that it got more votes statewide shouldn't really matter," Powers said.

George Connor, department head of political science at Missouri State University in Springfield, agreed that the closer the vote is, the more likely the Legislature sees an opportunity to revisit the issue. What makes it easier for lawmakers now is the fact that Republicans have a stronger majority following the midterm election.

"There's not a lot of push-back from constituents on it," Connor said of talks about revising Proposition B. "You're simply doing what your constituents wanted."

When the outcome to an initiative process is close to 50/50, as was the case with the puppy mill proposition at nearly 52 percent, Terry Jones, a political scientist at the University of Missouri St. Louis, said it's not unreasonable for the Legislature to say, "Perhaps there is a better path to follow other than the option that is on the ballot."

Minimum Wage

Another attempt to tinker with a voter-approved statutory revision was made on the minimum wage increase of 2006. Voters approved increasing minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.50 an hour -- again by a large margin of 76 percent.

Firefighters and police said the law left out provisions that excluded the agencies from being required to pay overtime, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Also, businesses felt the law's inflation adjustment would hurt economic growth, and restaurant owners wanted to roll back the increases for tip workers.

House Republicans, such as former Rep. Scott Muschany, who resigned from his 87th District seat in 2008, tried unsuccessfully to gather support for amendments to the law, according to the Post-Dispatch.

Campaign Contributions

In 1994, Missouri voters passed Proposition A to set limits on political contributions. The initiative seemed fated to fail from the start. The Legislature approved campaign finance limits in 1993 in an attempt to head off the voter initiative that began in 1992. The limits were too lenient for pro-limits groups and the issue went to a public vote and passed by a high margin of 74 percent in 1994.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1995 that the limits were too low and infringed on freedom of expression. The Legislature reset the limits higher, and those were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000.

Republicans later said the law was ineffective because donors simply funneled large amounts of money through different campaign committees. The Republicans, and a handful of Democrats, led the charge in 2006 to repeal campaign finance limits. They succeeded, only to have the Missouri Supreme Court reinstate the limits in 2007. The court cited problems with a provision to control fundraising during the legislative session, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.

The law was finally repealed, mostly along party-lines, in 2008. Democrats protested, saying the repeal goes against the will of the voters who established the limits in 1994, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Casino Limits

The Legislature in 2009 fixed a flaw in a proposition that repealed casino loss limits and raised the casino tax, which voters approved in November 2008. The problem was that not all school districts would receive the additional funds intended by the proposition. Senate Bill 291 fixed that glitch.

Matt Bird-Meyer is a graduate student at the University of Central Missouri. 

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