JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — It soon could be harder for Missouri voters to change the constitution after the House passed initiative petition legislation Thursday. 

One month into session, and lawmakers spent the week discussing some big priorities for Republicans. The first bill to pass in the lower chamber on a party-line vote would increase the threshold of votes needed to approve a referendum on the ballot. 

“We’re attacking that fundamental power that lies in the hands of the people,” Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said. “That’s a slap in the face to the people in Missouri.”

House Joint Resolution 43 is now in the hands of the Senate after Republican representatives approved the legislation that would require initiative petitions to receive 60% approval from voters to pass. Currently, it’s a simple majority, meaning there are more votes for than against. 

“I don’t think our constitution should be molded differently every year,” House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, said. “It needs to be a document that we respect and refer to.”

If the legislation is approved by the General Assembly, voters would have the final say, and it’s the question on the ballot that is giving some heartburn. 

“We all know in this room that this is misleading language and is designed to confuse people,” Rep. Daivd Tyson Smith, D-Columbia, said. 

The ballot language as it reads in the legislation right now says:

“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to: 

Allow only citizens of the United States to qualify as legal voters; 

Require initiative petitions proposing to amend the constitution to be reviewed by the 8 voters in each congressional district; and require amendments to the constitution be approved by a sixty percent vote?”

House Joint Resolution 43

“It’s good language,” Plocher said. “It’s clarification language. It might be in other parts of the constitution, but I think this needs to be specifically enumerated with how we are addressing and how we change the constitution.”

Initiative petition is how medical and recreational marijuana and Medicaid expansion were put on the ballot. The most recent initiative petition was Amendment 3, which voters approved in November, legalizing recreational marijuana for those 21 and older and expunging non-violent marijuana offenses. 

“It is ballot candy,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said. “There is absolutely no reason to reading into the tea leaves more than what it is. It is a quick, cute phrase at the beginning that they believe Missourians will like.”

Senate President Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said last week he is hesitant to make it more difficult to put ballot proposals before the voters and instead would rather make it hard to pass constitutional amendments. He said the upper chamber has the votes to approve the legislation, but members will review the ballot language. 

“We just want to make sure that if the constitution is changing that there is more of an energy and excitement to do something as opposed to find a 50% plus one,” Rowden said. 

Another big topic debated in the Senate this week, an education reform package. Senate Bill 4, 42, and 89 would prohibit teachers from teaching critical race theory and allow parents to inject themselves into their students’ education, better known as the Parents’ Bill of Rights. Under this provision, the state’s education department would start an accountability portal where districts would be required to make materials used in curriculum public online. 

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester,  would also require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to create a “patriotic and civics training program.” Teachers who complete the training would receive a $3,000 bonus. The bill would also prohibit schools from telling teachers to “personally adopt, adhere to, or profess a position or viewpoint” that would espouse beliefs on one race or ethnicity. If violated, districts could be held liable through legal action. 

During debate Wednesday afternoon, Koenig told the chamber that he does not want to prohibit educators from teaching topics of slavery, racial oppression, and sexism. What curriculum teachers would be restricted from under the bill’s language is “individuals of any race, ethnicity, color, or national origin are inherently superior or inferior.” Koenig’s bill would also prohibit teachers from placing blame or including their belief or opinion on a collective group or race when it comes to history. 

Democrats dominated the floor for several hours before the bill was tabled. Rowden said the chamber will revisit the legislation in the coming weeks.