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Petitions for payday loan cap, minimum wage hike, tobacco tax meet deadline to get on ballot

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 6, 2012 - Activists involved in two initiative-petition drives – to cap payday loan rates and to increase Missouri’s minimum wage – submitted more than 350,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office shortly before Sunday’s 5 p.m. deadline.

The two groups were “Missourians for Responsible Lending” and “Give Missourians a Raise,” which had similar coalitions of community groups, religious leaders and some unions.

Each proposal needs certified signatures from 91,818 to 99,600 registered voters to get on the November ballot. The signatures must include a required minimum from at least six of the state’s nine congressional districts, with the exact overall number needed depending on which six were chosen.

The secretary of state’s office has until early August to certify or reject the petitions.

The two are among four initiative-petition proposals that have submitted signatures by the deadline. The other petitions, whose signatures were submitted earlier, would increase the state's tobacco taxes and give the city of St. Louis control of its police department.

The tobacco proposal seeks to increase Missouri's tax on cigarettes to 90 cents a pack, from the current 17 cents, and would raise the taxes on other tobacco products as well.

Backers submitted an estimated 220,000 signatures on Friday.

Give Missourians a Raise is seeking to increase the state’s minimum wage to $8.25 an hour, a dollar more than it is now.

Missourians for Responsible Lending are seeking to cap the increase rate on payday loans at 36 percent; such loans now often have interest rates of 400 percent.

The group is still involved in a court fight with opponents, who are seeking to have the initiative petition signatures tossed out, alleging faulty ballot language and fiscal-impact projections.

Beginning of update: Lawyers for the opponents issued a joint statement late Sunday calling for the payday-loan-hike petitions to be tossed out.

Said lawyers Edward Greim and Chuck Hatfield: "On April 6, 2012, a Circuit Court Judge ruled the ballot title in this petition to be invalid and deceptive to voters. Despite that ruling, Missourians for Responsible Lending continued to deceive voters and collect signatures. We call on the Secretary of State to honor the Circuit Court’s ruling and reject the signatures immediately.” End of update

In statements this afternoon, leaders of the payday loan cap and the minimum wage increase said they were optimistic their proposals would get on the ballot.

“We expect all of the valid signatures submitted today to be counted,” said the Rev. James Bryan, treasurer of Missourians for Responsible Lending. “The payday lending industry and the hired guns working for their shadowy front group pulled out all the stops to protect their four hundred percent interest rates. They've threatened churches and faith leaders, lied to and harassed voters on the streets, and worked to disenfranchise the citizens who signed petitions -- but we have prevailed.”

Said the Rev. Dr. James T. Morris, treasurer of Give Missourians a Raise: “As payday lending executives and other CEOs get richer, regular people in Missouri are struggling to make ends meet across Missouri. It’s wrong to pay people less than $8 an hour and charge them 400 percent interest rates. These initiatives are important steps forward to an economy that works for all of us.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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