Will new rules threaten the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative?

A Missouri state lawmaker is introducing legislation that would make it harder for citizens to put constitutional amendments to a vote of the people. Like many states, Missourians can place an amendment on the ballot if they collect enough signatures. As he did during last year’s session, Rep. Mike Parson (R-Bolivar) will propose a bill in the 2009 session that would impose the following new regulations on that process:

  • Prevent signature-gatherers from being paid for every signature they collect.
  • Exclude non-Missouri residents from gathering signatures.
  • Prohibit petitioners from collecting signature for more than one petition at a time. 
  • Require gatherers to register with the Secretary of State’s office

Speaking to the Springfield News-Leader, Parson claimed the process needs changing to prevent out-of-state interests from paying non-resident signature gatherers to change Missouri’s constitution. The lawmaker said he would rather the General Assemblydecide whether to place an item on the ballot.

Those agreeing with Parson might also point out that we live in a Republic, not a Democracy. We elect public servants to represent us in legisative bodies, and do so in order that they may make decisions on our behalf. In doing so, we expect a certain prudence in the development of the code of laws by which we all must live.

That being said, there is a danger in limiting the means by which the people can democratically express their will. Especially when dealing with what can sometimes be a politically controversial issue like the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative. I suspect that the majority of Missourians support the notion that the state government should not discriminate on the basis of race in areas of public contracting, public employment and public education. However, the mainstream media and certain special-interest pressure groups have made the issue a volatile one to touch for many a politician. In cases like this, there is certainly something to be said for allowing the people to take matters into their own hands.

What would be interesting to know is whether Parson had (or has) any particular petition in mind when he first filed, and is now re-filing this bill. That is a matter I hope to look into in the coming days and weeks.

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Filed under Missouri Civil Rights Initiative, Missouri Politics

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