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Petitions gathering signatures as lawmakers discuss raising threshold


At the post office, the public library, the farmers market or any street corner, you may have been asked to sign a petition or two over the past few weeks.

With a big election this year, many groups are trying to get their causes on the ballot. From abortion access to sports betting to casino licenses, a variety of causes are gathering signatures from voters. Meanwhile, some lawmakers are pushing forward bills that would make it more difficult to pass an initiative petition.

An initiative petition is a form of direct democracy that allows voters to amend their state constitution or state statute without going through the legislature or governor. About half of the states in the U.S. have some form of initiative or referenda.

Right now, 139 petitions are approved to start collecting signatures. Many of those are different versions of the same petition, such as a petition that would legalize sports betting that has eight slightly different versions.

Michael Manning is collecting signatures for a petition that aims to have the Missouri Gaming Commission add another license for a new riverboat casino. The taxes from the casino would go to children's literacy.

"It's amending the state constitution to allow the Missouri Gaming Commission for one additional gaming license, and then the proceeds of that, we're trying to put back into the schools with the focus on getting the reading level up," Manning said.

To get an issue from a petition to a ballot question, organizers need to gather signatures from all over Missouri. For a constitutional amendment, a petition needs roughly 175,000 signatures from six of the eight congressional districts. To get a question on the ballot this year, signatures need to be turned into the secretary of state's office by May 5.

"If they receive the requisite number of signatures according to the Constitution, then our office will give them a certificate of sufficiency and that issue will be on the ballot. If they do not receive enough signatures, then we will give them a certificate of insufficiency and it will not go on the ballot," said Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft.

Once on the ballot, questions need a simple majority to pass.

"I think petitions are a good thing. I think it's like the basis of the democratic process is because this isn't a vote, it just gets on the ballot and then people can decide for themselves," Manning said.

Two bills that would make it more difficult to pass an initiative petition will be voted on in committees Tuesday. A Senate resolution introduced by Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R-Arnold) will be voted on in the Missouri House of Representatives elections committee, and a House bill introduced by Rep. Mike Haffner (R-Pleasant Hill) will be voted on in the Missouri Senate Elections Committee.

Republicans have prioritized initiative petition reform for the past few years but failed to get a bill across the finish line each time. Many Republicans are worried that an initiative petition currently gathering signatures on reproductive rights would pass and allow abortions in Missouri once more if the process is not changed.

Ashcroft, a Republican, supports efforts to raise the threshold for passing amendments. Ashcroft said he championed similar efforts since 2016.

"What I have always envisioned is making sure that we cannot ratify changes to the Constitution unless it is something that the people of the state of Missouri want and broadly agree to," Ashcroft said.

Article Topic Follows: Missouri Politics

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Hannah Falcon

Hannah joined the ABC 17 News Team from Houston, Texas, in June 2021. She graduated from Texas A&M University. She was editor of her school newspaper and interned with KPRC in Houston. Hannah also spent a semester in Washington, D.C., and loves political reporting.


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