JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Top priorities in the legislative session that begins Wednesday will be making it harder to amend Missouri’s Constitution, sports betting, and education issues ranging from attending out-of-district schools to how children are educated about racism.
GOP lawmakers have been trying for years to crack down on initiative petitions, which have been used to enact policies that the Republican-led Legislature either avoided dealing with or opposed.
For example, voters this year legalized the recreational use of marijuana in response to inaction by lawmakers, and a 2020 citizen-led ballot initiative forced the state to expand Medicaid coverage, despite years of resistance from Republicans.
Rep. Jon Patterson, the incoming House majority floor leader, said Republicans have not yet agreed on the best way to tighten the ballot initiative process. One House proposal would require signatures from 15% of voters in each of the state’s eight congressional districts to put initiatives to a public vote. Currently, petitioners must gather signatures from 8% of voters in six districts.
Caleb Rowden, who is expected to take over as Senate president pro tem, said he wants to keep the current process for putting measures to a public vote but raise the threshold for enacting those proposals.
“There’s a distinction between making it harder to get there and then just ensuring that if we’re going to change the Constitution and put bingo language in there and 40 pages of marijuana language that there’s a higher threshold,” Rowden said.
Although Republicans are still hammering out the details, GOP lawmakers are for the most part unified in their desire to tamp down on voter-driven constitutional changes. The issue is an opportunity for the party to band together despite division over social policies, such as the treatment of transgender students.
Senate leaders last year pushed off debate over transgender athletes and critical race theory — a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism, but one that is not a fixture in U.S. schools — to focus on tax cuts and less disputed issues. This year, Rowden said those social issues will get a spotlight.
Patterson said top House GOP priorities also include policies on transgender athletes and education on race, as well as allowing school districts to enroll out-of-district students.
Bipartisan priorities include expanding Medicaid coverage for new mothers and increasing access to pre-kindergarten programs. Patterson said more child care options could help parents reenter the workforce.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Rowden said.
Democratic and Republican legislative leaders also have said that legalizing sports betting, another perennial issue that has not yet been passed, will be high on the list of priorities for the session.