Missouri Business Headlines

Initiative petition free-for-all causing concern

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Missouri’s initiative petition process gives citizens the power to band together and pass laws without going to the state legislature for approval.

However, this process is beginning to create problems in the state. Some state leaders have grown concerned as the number of petitions filed each election cycle has grown from a few dozen to hundreds in recent years. In addition, some initiative petitions are poorly drafted and, if they become law, can end up creating years of costly litigation.

Policymakers and Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft are currently studying how to reform the initiative petition process to fix the problems with the system and ensure the process remains efficient going forward.

In the current election cycle, which closes on May 6, the Secretary of State’s office has had to cope with processing 371 initiative petitions. Processing that many petitions has created a workload problem in the office. The rate of filing initiative petitions continues to rise. For example, only 15 initiative petitions were filed during the 2004 election cycle. Ten years later, in 2014, that number had risen to 129. However, the total has already more than doubled since then.

Some Missouri lawmakers have filed legislation this year to address the problem. Rep. Kevin Engler, a Republican from Farmington, has filed House Bill 1289. His bill has numerous provisions, including creating a filing fee for initiative petitions—creating a disincentive against filing frivolous petitions. The bill also allows the Secretary of State to reject petitions that don’t comply with the state’s constitution.

“This is not the vision of our founders … They didn’t think in terms of there would be hundreds every time and whoever had a $1 million to pay the signature gatherers could get whatever they wanted on the ballot,” said Rep. Engler, during a recent committee hearing on his bill.

The bill has passed the Missouri House of Representatives and is headed to the Senate for consideration. Rep. Engler said several lawmakers are continuing to study the matter and it’s likely the legislation will see changes as it moves forward.

For more information, contact Matt Panik, Missouri Chamber vice president of governmental affairs, at mpanik@mochamber.com or by phone at 573.634.3511.

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