MPA Capitol Report 5/17/2024

In Legislative News, Legislative Reports, Legislative Resources On
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MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members
This report is written by Missouri School of Journalism students for publication by MPA member newspapers in print and online.


The Missouri News Network this week has coverage of the final week of the legislative session, including a record-breaking filibuster by Senate Democrats that halted consideration of changes to approval of constitutional amendments, a look at key numbers in the state budget and a story exploring what’s up with several changes to voting that Republicans are seeking.

A final story wrapping up the legislative session is planned for later today, May 17, and will be available at Remember, stories that are part of the Missouri News Network are free for Missouri Press members to republish with attribution. These stories are tagged with “Missouri News Network” in the byline.

If you have thoughts or questions, contact Mark Horvit at or Fred Anklam at





House stands pat on initiative petition language


Missouri News Network

JEFFERSON CITY — The House dealt what might be the final blow Thursday to a resolution seeking to make it harder for voters to change the Missouri Constitution.

Presented with the Senate rejection of its amendments to the original resolution, the House voted along mostly party lines to send the resolution back with the offending language intact.

Senate Democrats have filibustered the resolution, which would need to be adopted by voters later this year even if approved by the legislature, for more than 70 hours on two separate occasions because of language in the resolution they feel is deceptive to voters.

Prospects appeared slim for Senate action Friday before the 6 p.m. deadline for the legislative session to end. Senate Floor Leader Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, who supports what has been a Republican priority to alter the process for amending the constitution, said her view is that the effort is dead for this session.

On Wednesday evening, Republicans couldn’t get enough votes to end the filibuster by Democrats. In resignation, they sent the bill back to the House, asking that they remove the amendments with the problematic language.

The resolution, which originated in the Senate, would increase the threshold of votes needed to pass a ballot measure from the current statewide majority to a statewide majority plus a majority in at least five of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.

A version amended by the House included language Democrats deem manipulative. Republicans have acknowledged that the added provisions are only in the resolution to get skeptical voters to approve it.

The language states that foreign entities cannot invest in Missouri initiative petitions and that only U.S. citizens can vote in state elections. Both things are already protected by law. The resolution’s handler in the House, Rep. Alex Riley, R-Springfield, couldn’t provide an example of a foreign entity interfering with a Missouri ballot initiative.

Rep. Joe Adams, D-St. Louis, called out how the proposal would disenfranchise urban voters. “They are trying to turn the people of Kansas City, St. Louis, Columbia (and) Springfield into three-fifths of a voter,” he said, bringing to mind the formula for how enslaved populations were counted for taxation and congressional representation purposes before slavery was abolished.

The House could have avoided sending the resolution back by stripping the amendments and passing the resolution. That would have gone to voters as a simple proposition of whether they favored increasing the threshold of votes needed to amend the constitution.

The House debate exemplified the differences between the two chambers. In the Senate, Democrats filibustered the resolution for 50 hours this week until Republicans threw in the towel and sent the resolution back to the House. The resolution was debated in the House for a mere 30 minutes before the chamber voted to stand on its principles.

The drama in the Senate boiled over into Thursday as Republicans sparred on the floor.

First, Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, offered an amendment to the Senate journal, which read in part: “(The vote on initiative petition reform) was interrupted by a stampeding heard of rhinoceroses running through the Senate chamber.”

He was referring to the term “RINO” or Republican in name only, which is often used by far right Republicans to attack fellow party members. In response, O’Laughlin sent the chamber into recess.

After the recess, Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, offered an amendment condemning the attorney general for defending several Freedom Caucus members in court with public dollars. That prompted angry retorts from Eigel about Cierpiot and led O’Laughlin to adjourn the chamber until Friday.


Rowden bids farewell to legislature


MIssouri News Network

JEFFERSON CITY — Caleb Rowden never expected to run for office. But Friday marks the last day of the final regular session of his 12 years representing Columbia and Boone County in the Missouri General Assembly.

For the past two years, Rowden has served as Senate president pro tem, the first senator representing Boone County to hold that position. He went from a touring musician in a band playing Christian music to holding the most powerful position in the Senate in just over a decade of public service.

As he leaves the legislature, he cites a number of victories: the Interstate 70 expansion, greater investments in public education and charter schools for Boone County.

But this final session has been challenging, seeing high levels of dysfunction in the Senate with Republican infighting in addition to the usual across-the-aisle disagreements with Democrats.

A group of far-right Senate Republicans known as the Freedom Caucus spent hours filibustering this session, seeking their priorities addressed on their schedule and preventing the Senate from debating and passing other legislation. They were vocal on the Senate floor and on social media about how disappointed they were with what they said was the Senate leadership’s unwillingness to press for Republican priorities.

As president pro tem, it’s up to Rowden and other Senate leaders to maintain order in the chamber so that legislation can be addressed. Part of that involves counting votes and knowing when there is a majority of Republicans ready to support specific bills.

Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, explains that the Republicans call themselves “the normals” in comparison to the Freedom Caucus.

“I encouraged (Rowden) all the time,” Cierpiot said. “I met with him early in the session and said, ‘We can’t back down with these guys; we just can’t.’”

Early in the session, Rowden took action against the Freedom Caucus in an effort to curb its disruptive actions after several weeks of caucus members using Senate time to criticize his and other Senate GOP leaders’ priorities. In what was seen as a dramatic, even harsh, move, he stripped the Freedom Caucus members of their committee memberships.

“I think we’ve done as best as we can. I think that Caleb, his entire leadership career … has been dealing with this chaos, and I think he’s done a remarkable job,” Cierpiot said.

Democrats acknowledge his efforts as well. Sen. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, said that Rowden “epitomizes what you’d expect of a statesperson.”

In a recent interview, Rowden recalled that back in 2016, the legislature experienced relatively low amounts of infighting as it was the first time in a while that a Republican had been elected governor.

But then the Conservative Caucus was created in 2018 when Sens. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, and Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, lost Senate leadership races to Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, and Rowden. Rowden said while the conservatives may claim this isn’t why the caucus was formed, it’s his opinion that this loss had everything to do with its creation.

“They broke the Senate so they can claim it’s broken,” Rowden said, referring to the friction and infighting that came from the Conservative Caucus — and now the Freedom Caucus. Rowden has also been open on social media platform X about his frustration with the Freedom Caucus. He has noted that their tactics tie up normal floor procedure despite the group having fewer votes than the nine Democrats.

“Obviously since he kicked me off being a chairman, kicked me off two committees, took my parking spot, this session has been rocky,” said Hoskins, a member of the Freedom Caucus. “The most rocky it’s been the last eight years.”

Rowden had announced his intent to run for secretary of state last fall but never formally filed to run and announced in March that he had decided not to.

“I just came to the realization that there are so many things in my life that I care about more than running for office,” Rowden said. “You have to prioritize … There’s only so much time in a day.”

For Rowden, his priorities are his family: his wife, Aubrey, and three children, Willem, Adele and Theo.

“Whatever I do next, we’re going to make sure that there’s space for my family and space for me to be a good dad,” Rowden said of his future plans.

Rowden owns a marketing company in Columbia but said he’s in no rush to make decisions about his next steps. While he said, “never say never,” Rowden does not see himself coming back to a public role and that it would “take a lot” to convince him.

So how did a musician find himself as the leader of the Missouri Senate?

“There was no ‘a-ha’ moment,” Rowden said.

Rowden said he wanted to settle down and establish roots. As he was finding his way and looking for ways to serve his community, he was approached and asked to run for office, initially for the Columbia City Council, but his sights soon changed to the Missouri House.

He was first elected to the House in 2012 by constituents of Boone and Cooper counties. District lines for both Senate and House seats have since been redrawn to limit them to the borders of Boone County.

Rowden has consistently run on a platform of strengthening the economy, community safety and investing in public education. He said these are the issues that most of his constituents care about — regardless of political affiliation.

“I think one of Caleb’s gifts is he’s been able to accurately represent his district,” McCreery said, “which, in my opinion, is more of a regular Republican district.”

When Rowden stepped into his role as majority leader in 2018, after being elected to the Senate in 2016, he said he had to give up a lot, specifically trading in pushing his personal priorities for the responsibilities of leadership. Despite being in a leadership role, Rowden said he didn’t want to continue running for office but felt like he got forced into it by his fellow Senate Republicans in 2020.

“I got elected to majority leader … which is a really unique opportunity to do big things for Columbia and Boone County,” Rowden said. “It was, ‘you’ve got some unfinished business’ and you’re in a position of influence that not many people get to be in so it’s worth sticking it out.”

Rowden said he is content with the legacy he’s leaving behind. He’s not sure if the senators who spent this session disrupting the legislative process will feel similarly about their legacies.

“I’m gonna look back and be really proud of what I’ve accomplished. I’m not sure they’re going to be able to say the same,” he said.

While he had to give up a lot of his personal priorities, Rowden kept his focus on improving education in Missouri. This past session he pushed for an education package that was signed by the governor on May 7. The $468 million package included increasing the minimum pay for teachers, allowing for charter schools in Boone County and changing the funding formula for public schools.

Rowden said he expects Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, to take his place as it’s the natural pecking order to move from majority leader to president pro tem. O’Laughlin would be the first woman to hold the position in Missouri. But who takes O’Laughlin’s seat as floor leader is more of a mystery.

Rowden’s advice to those hoping to take his place as the leader of the Senate: “Don’t run.”

He laughed after giving the answer but said that the next president pro tem should be prepared to be flexible, give up a lot and, most importantly, maintain relationships.

“There’s very, very few great days and quite a lot of not great days,” Rowden said. “It’s hard to find 18 people who want to do much of anything around here, but we’ve been able to do it occasionally.”

Rowden said he has been ready to be done with the legislature and jokes that he’s finally “retired” now. He says you will be able to find him on the golf course as he figures out his next steps.

Reporter Quinn S Coffman contributed to this story.



Senate sends initiative petition changes back to the House



JEFFERSON CITY — Senate Democrats got what they wanted Wednesday, rejecting with bipartisan support, House changes to a resolution that would make it harder to amend the Missouri Constitution.

The 18-13 vote came after a Democratic filibuster that stretched over 50 hours and exposed divisions in the Republican membership in the Senate.

The decision was met with outrage from members of the far-right Freedom Caucus, who wanted to end the Democrats’ filibuster through a rarely used Senate procedure. There were not enough Republican votes to support that effort, even with the party holding 24 of the Senate’s 34 seats.

“We do not have a number of senators who are willing to allow a vote to take place on an underlying motion right now,” the resolution’s sponsor, Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, said on the Senate floor shortly before 5 p.m.

“And if a motion were made using extraordinary measures, I believe that that vote would fail,” she added. “And I think that’s bad for the institution.”

That motion she referred to is known as the previous question. When offered and approved by a majority of senators, it ends all debate on a bill. The procedure hasn’t been used in years in the Senate although the Republican majority in the House frequently uses it.

The resolution — which would require voter approval even if passed by the legislature — would require that constitutional amendments receive a majority of votes in five of Missouri’s eight congressional districts in addition to a statewide majority, which is the current standard.

Democrats oppose the proposed change and filibustered over language in the resolution they said would manipulate voters into supporting the change, such as a requirement that only U.S. citizens vote in Missouri elections, which is already enshrined in the state constitution.

Senate and House Republican leadership have acknowledged that they want to include the language because it sounds important and could help drum up support for the proposed changes to the amendment process. Democrats have termed the language “ballot candy” and began filibustering as soon as the resolution was brought up for consideration Monday afternoon.

Three months ago, Democrats filibustered for 20 hours before Republicans stripped out the “ballot candy” and sent it to the House. Then, the House added it back in and sent it back to the Senate, requiring an additional vote in the Senate.

While Democrats took turns speaking on the floor — allowing no other legislation to be considered — Republicans huddled in several groups seeking to find a way to end the impasse. In the end, not enough Republican senators would support the effort to force a vote on the previous question. So Coleman, who had urged the House to restore the language Democrats opposed, stood up at her desk and made the motion to send the resolution back to the House.

Freedom Caucus member Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonvile, condemned Republicans for allowing Democrats to get what they wanted yet again.

“This Republican Party has no backbone to fight for what is right (and) for life,” Brattin yelled in a crowded chamber prior to the vote.

“I know that people are listening to this online and are fed up with the Republican Party because they have no backbone,” he said, his voice rising. “And they will have the blood of the innocent on their heads. Shame on this party.”

Changing the initiative process has been an expressed priority of Republicans this year. Their hope was to make it more difficult to amend the constitution ahead of an expected November ballot initiative aimed at legalizing abortion in Missouri.

If abortion is legalized in the state of Missouri in the next few years, it will come from the initiative petition process. The reference to “life” in Brattin’s speech clearly referred to that possibility.

Before the critical vote Democrats took to the floor to thank the Republicans who went against a plan to offer the previous question motion.

The 18-13 vote was the minimum amount of support necessary for the resolution to be returned to the House. All Democrats voted for it and every Freedom Caucus member voted against it. The remaining Republican votes were split with nine supporting it versus eight who voted against it.

It’s unclear which way the House will go with the resolution on Thursday. Speaker Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, has been on the record in support of the version with ballot candy. Floor Leader Jon Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, was the only Republican to vote against it when the House passed it.

If the House passes the resolution without adding the “ballot candy,” it will go straight to the voters for approval. If the House grants a conference, a committee of senators and representatives would be tasked with coming to a compromise. That compromise would then need majority approval from the Senate and House before heading to voters.

Conference committees are generally made up of six Republicans and four Democrats. That would give Democrats a higher ratio of votes than they hold in the General Assembly. The speaker and Senate Pro Tem. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, would appoint conferees. Rowden wouldn’t say who would sit on the committee.

FRA heads to governor’s desk

It took 41 hours for the Senate to pass the extension of the federal reimbursement allowance (FRA) for Medicaid. In the House it took four minutes.

The FRA is a tax on health care centers in Missouri that is reimbursed at a greater amount to assist those centers in caring for patients on government health care. It’s essential to keeping rural health centers open. MU Health was reimbursed about $54 million last fiscal year.

The bill is essential to balancing the state budget but met opposition from the Freedom Caucus. They spent 41 hours filibustering the bill as Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, called it an unnecessary tax on hospitals.

The House had no such theatrics in passing the bill. Leadership on both sides of the aisle briefly spoke on the importance of the bill, then it passed with almost unanimous consent.



Senate leadership committed to initiative petition language



JEFFERSON CITY — Cindy O’Laughlin is the Republican in charge of the Senate floor. When she speaks people usually listen, when she acts people usually follow.

So it was news Tuesday when O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, affirmed to the Missourian her continued support for some of the language in a resolution that would make it harder for voters to change the Missouri Constitution.

Democrats have filibustered consideration of the resolution since the Senate went into session Monday afternoon because of the language O’Laughlin says she supports.

That language, which Democrats call “ballot candy,” states that no person can vote on a constitutional amendment unless they are a resident of Missouri and a citizen of the United States and that no foreign government or foreign political party can sponsor a constitutional amendment or provide financial support for or against one. Democrats point out that these restrictions already exist in state law.

Many ballot initiatives entice voters with misleading or confusing information. A ballot initiative this year to legalize sports betting in Missouri is promoted as “Winning for Missouri Education.” A ballot initiative passed in 2022 to legalize marijuana came with 39 pages of changes to the Missouri Constitution. Voters had to decide whether to vote “yes” or “no” based only on a 56-word question.

Democrats earlier this session ended a filibuster after that language was taken out of the resolution, leaving it clear to voters that it changes the requirements needed to pass a ballot measure to a simple majority statewide and a majority in five of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.

Democrats feel Republicans added those provisions in to trick voters into approving the change. Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, called the voting provisions an attempt to “deceive voters and derail the initiative petition process.”

Republicans have changed their messaging on the term “ballot candy” since the beginning of the initiative petition debate a few months ago. They used to, and still do justify the language as essential to free and fair elections in Missouri. Now, they say the language is necessary to get the proposition approved by voters.

O’Laughlin said she agrees that the provisions are “ballot candy,” adding that she wants them in the resolution so it has a greater chance of approval from voters.

“(‘Ballot candy’ is) what gets people’s attention and brings even more support, so why would we get rid of it,” O’Laughlin said as the Democrat filibuster rang through the Senate speakers.

She also said that she’s not open to engaging in a conference committee with the House to reach a compromise, as Democrats suggest. O’Laughlin said that ending the Democratic filibuster through the previous question, a rarely used tool where a majority of Senators can force a vote to end debate on a subject, is “always an option.”

Such options are getting more attention, as this is the last week of the legislative session.

The initiative petition changes passed out of the Senate three months ago after Republicans led by Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, joined Democrats to remove the “ballot candy.” The House then added it back in and sent it back to the Senate to reconsider.

Now, Cierpiot said he’s going to support O’Laughlin’s decision to try to keep the language in the resolution. The issue has hung over the legislature all session with no clear path for resolution just days before the session ends.



Filibuster stalls Senate floor again



JEFFERSON CITY — Same tune, different players.

It only took a few minutes Monday for the Senate to return to a filibuster — this time led by Democrats. Most of the session has seen filibusters by the hard right Republicans in the Freedom Caucus.

With the state budget approved last week and the legislative session scheduled to end on Friday, Senate Republicans took up a resolution that would ask voters to make it more difficult to amend the Missouri Constitution.

The Senate resolution sponsored by Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, would require ballot initiatives to get a majority of votes statewide and in at least five of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.

That proposed change didn’t cause the filibuster. Democrats are standing up over language they consider to be “ballot candy” — provisions already in law that are designed to distract voters from the actual changes being proposed. The language states that non-citizens would be prohibited from voting in state elections and prohibits foreign entities from supporting ballot measures.

The Missouri Constitution and Secretary of State already prevent non-citizens from voting. It’s also illegal for foreign entities to support American elections at any level. Federal law supersedes state constitutions, so adjusting the Missouri constitution to ban foreign investment would have no effect.

Democrats want the language stripped so that voters will clearly understand the real changes being made to the constitution. They continued their filibuster into Tuesday morning with no sign of stopping.

Three of five ballot initiatives to increase the threshold needed to pass initiative petitions have failed in other states over the last decade.

The bill has already been approved by the Senate once earlier in the session after a coalition of Republicans joined Democrats in supporting an amendment stripping the “ballot candy.”

It’s unclear whether something like that could happen again as the amendment’s sponsor Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, told the Missourian shortly after the vote that he wasn’t necessarily opposed to the ballot candy but wanted to get the bill done. The House then added the provisions back to the bill, forcing it back to the Senate for reconsideration.

When the bill was brought forward, Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, offered a resolution asking the House to accept the initial Senate version of the bill or go to a conference committee where a group of Senators and House members can work it out.

Going forward, there are essentially four options:

  • Rizzo’s proposition of a conference committee that would propose its own bill, which would need approval from the House and Senate afterward. That plan would also free up the Senate floor for discussion on other bills.
  • Remove the “ballot candy,” which would need some Republican votes with the Democrats and require another vote in the House before passage.
  • Move the previous question against Democrats, ending the debate and forcing a vote on Rizzo’s proposed amendment. The previous question is a rarely used tool where a majority of Senators can end a filibuster. Republicans outside of the Freedom Caucus and bill sponsor who have been the most outspoken on initiative petition reform have not broached the possibility of the previous question publicly.
  • Lay the bill over and end session for the year. Now that the budget is passed the General Assembly is not required to take up any more bills and can adjourn.


Four important numbers in Missouri’s FY 2025 budget



JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri General Assembly met its constitutional mandate to pass a state budget Friday, sending to Gov. Mike Parson a $51.7 billion package that funds essential services like the state’s health care and public education system.

The final number is about $1 billion under what the governor proposed at the beginning of the year. He has the power to eliminate specific spending items.

Here are four key numbers you should know about the Fiscal Year 2025 state budget.

— $6,760 —

The state adequacy target is the baseline per pupil funding provided to school districts by the state. It was unchanged for four years until this year, when it was bumped to $6,760 from $6,375. The funding has failed to keep pace with inflation over the last 17 years. In 2007, the target established by the legislature was $9,575 per pupil after adjusting for inflation.

A major education bill raising minimum teacher pay to $40,000 a year and expanding charter schools to Boone County, among other provisions, passed this session. It comes with a hefty $468 million fiscal note once fully implemented and will cost around $200 million a year for the next few years.

House budget chair Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said that the steep increase in education spending required going forward wasn’t factored in while composing the FY 2025 budget. None of the mandates in the bill are connected to a funding source, meaning if the state can’t afford them, it would be on local governments to do so.

It’s unclear the likelihood of that possibility. At the beginning of the year the state projected a 0.5% decrease in general revenue over the rest of this fiscal year and the next one. Yet, up to date revenue receipts have shown a different picture. As of April, general revenue collections are up 2.7% year over year.

— 6 —

Six departments requested funds for programs or practices that involved diversity, equity and inclusion in some way. Republicans have targeted DEI in the appropriations process for years. Last year, the House defunded DEI in its version of the budget, but the Senate approved it, keeping it in the budget.

Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, who introduced the DEI amendment last year, again proposed an amendment to ban state spending on DEI several times while the budget bills were on the Senate floor. It failed by bipartisan votes each time.

Blocking funding to DEI isn’t the first time Republicans have attempted to legislate through the budget bills. The 2022 budget included a provision preventing any Medicaid reimbursements going to Planned Parenthood because it has affiliates in other states that provide abortions. That provision was later struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Even as DEI was protected in the budget, a provision was added by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, to prevent any money from going to a city that has a sanctuary city policy that protects the identity of immigrants.

After failing to block state funds for Planned Parenthood and DEI in the budget process, Republicans have turned to changing statute. The governor already signed a bill passed this session to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursements. A bill banning funds spent on DEI programs in state agencies got initial House approval last week.

Only six agencies have offices relating to diversity, equity and inclusion. Planned Parenthood is unable to provide abortions in Missouri because of the state ban on abortions. No city in the state has a sanctuary city policy.

— 0 —

No public comment was taken throughout the four-month budget process. In an effort to have the budget completed earlier, the process began sooner. Instead, the budget was completed three hours before the constitutional deadline, and the public wasn’t privy to the process’s inner workings.

Smith unveiled his budget plan mid-March, two months before the bills were constitutionally mandated to be passed. In a 30-minute hearing he laid out a $49 billion spending plan and gave committee members a few days to review the whole package and come up with amendments.

About a month later, the Senate held a hearing unveiling its own package without receiving public comment. Its version of the budget bills was unveiled less than two weeks before the budget due date.

A 41-hour filibuster by the Freedom Caucus on the federal reimbursement allowance, a bill that funds a large portion of the state’s healthcare system, further cramped the timeline.

With the clock ticking, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, and Smith decided to finalize the budget process themselves instead of in a public conference committee.

The new bills created by the budget chairs were brought before the Senate and House with no time for prior review by elected officials or the public.

Republicans and Democrats alike criticized the budget. Gov. Mike Parson said his office wasn’t privy to any of the budget discussions and called the process “problematic.” He also said that he didn’t want a large supplemental — when the legislature has to appropriate funds to departments to continue day-to-day operations.

Rep. Peter Meredith, D-St. Louis, who has served on the budget committee for eight years, said it was the least transparent process he’s ever seen.

— $558 million —

UM system got about $558 million in this year’s budget: $509 million of that is baseline funding for the system, with about $50 million appropriated for various university projects. The overall appropriation is a 3% increase from last year.

  • $10 million was put forward to complete a $25 million meat laboratory on MU’s campus.
  • $6 million was appropriated for a workforce incentive grant at MU.
  • Around $5 million was given to the State Historical Society. That’s about $2 million more than last year.

Hough is proud of the budget despite the transparency concerns.

“It’s been an odd year, but it’s been a good year and I think the end product is something we can be proud of,” Hough said after the bills passed the Senate.


What’s driving Republican lawmakers to shore up voting laws in Missouri?


Missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — There’s been a steady push by Republicans this legislative session to regulate voting laws in Missouri. It isn’t new, but it’s been gaining steam.

The bills seek to regulate — or restrict — provisions around who can vote and how, the way votes are counted and other matters related to election security.

Almost all aim to address concerns that either don’t exist or to prevent changes from ever happening.

Republicans want to ensure that only U.S. citizens can vote, but the Missouri Constitution and voting qualifications from the secretary of state’s office already outline that requirement.

Republicans want to ban foreign governments from funding constitutional amendments, but the Missouri Constitution addresses foreign influence in elections as well.

Republicans want to ramp up election security by creating a new division that would investigate claims of election fraud, but such division already exists and has been active for more than 10 years.

Republicans want to ban ranked-choice voting, but the voting practice is not established in state law. St. Louis practices a version of it for local elections.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that is often cited by Republicans, has ranked Missouri sixth nationally in its Election Integrity Scorecard.

What is driving Republicans to pursue these voting measures?

For one lawmaker, it’s about election integrity. For another, it’s about being proactive.

Opponents say these efforts are driven by “anti-immigrant bigotry” and a desire for “consolidation of power.”

Justifying causes

Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, has been vocal all session about amending the Missouri Constitution to clarify that only U.S. citizens can vote in Missouri. He takes issue with language in the state constitution that he believes isn’t clear enough on who can and cannot vote in the state.

Article 8 Section 2 of the Missouri Constitution states that “All citizens of the United States … over the age of eighteen who are residents of this state … are entitled to vote.” Hoskins wants “All” changed to “Only” to tame the possibility of noncitizens voting in elections.

But opponents say the constitution is unambiguous on the issue and point to what they believe is behind this rhetoric.

“That just taps into this whole anti-immigrant bigotry fueled by (former President Donald) Trump and is kind of the norm in our American society today,” said Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia.

“You keep pushing this envelope, like, ‘How far can I push this?’ and that leads to other things,” Smith added. “And that’s dangerous.”

Hoskins might get his wish later this year if a proposal aiming to increase the threshold needed to approve constitutional amendments gets one more affirmative vote in the Senate.

In addition to the threshold requirement, the proposal, sponsored by Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, would ask voters whether the constitution should be changed to reflect that only U.S. citizens can vote on constitutional amendments and to ban constitutional amendments sponsored by foreign governments.

The proposal has been a focus of Democrats who claim the intention of the two latter provisions is to mislead voters and act as a distraction.

“It takes away from the conversation — and that’s the point of it,” said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence.

Rizzo, now in his 14th and final year in the legislature, said the push behind Coleman’s proposed changes to the threshold for approving constitutional amendments is driven in part by a desire for Republicans to consolidate power.

“They have had the supermajority for so long now that the only thing left for them to take away is the ability for people to go around them,” he said. “It just drives them crazy that there is an ability for people to have a voice in government that doesn’t go through them.”

Hoskins has an opposite point of view.

“What we’ve seen is, since Missouri has become a more red Republican state, the minority and out-of-state special interests have come in and sponsored some ballot measures in order to try and get something passed,” Hoskins said.

“So it seems like the liberal special interests are, since they can’t get stuff through the legislature because we have supermajorities of all Republicans … they’re coming in and trying to bypass the legislature and put something on the ballot,” he said.

Out of all the proposals by Republicans this session aimed at regulating voting, Coleman’s has drawn the most opposition and scorn. But it isn’t the only one.

Preemptive or premature?

Ranked-choice voting does not occur in Missouri. It’s a practice where voters rank their preferred candidates on one ballot so their votes can be redistributed among top vote getters until a winner is declared after receiving a majority of the vote. Yet Republicans want it banned, saying it’s too confusing.

“I don’t see a good justification to insert a great deal of chaos into the ballot box,” said Rep. Alex Riley, R-Springfield.

Riley said he fears ranked-choice voting would create unnecessary turmoil for voters who might not follow the necessary steps needed to fill in a ballot.

The proposal to ban ranked-choice voting, sponsored by Sen. Ben Brown, R-Washington, is one vote away from being placed on the ballot and has received increased attention this session partly because, similar to Coleman’s bill, it would also ask voters whether the state constitution should be amended to allow only U.S. citizens to vote.

But whereas Coleman’s proposal only addresses constitutional amendments when referring to the citizenship requirement, Brown’s proposal includes all voting in the state.

Smith, who’s had a front-row seat to discussions regarding voting as a member of the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee, doesn’t see the point.

“We don’t have an epidemic of voting problems in America with undocumented people voting,” he said. “That’s not an epidemic, that’s not a problem, that’s not a crisis.”

Smith is correct as far as Missouri’s concerned.

“I’m not aware of that sort of activity on any kind of a large scale,” said JoDonn Chaney, director of communications for the secretary of state’s office, referring to non-U.S. citizens voting in Missouri.

Still, Republicans say they want to be proactive.

“Putting some additional protections within the constitution itself … whether we have massive numbers of illegal immigrants voting in Missouri, I can’t point to that and say, ‘Yeah, we do.’ I can’t say that we don’t. I think that’d be really hard to tell,” Riley said.

“But, to address that issue going forward … it makes sense to me to put some additional language, some additional safeguards in the state constitution itself,” he said.

Republicans take a similar approach of placing protective measures around foreign governments’ ability to make contributions to election campaigns or ballot initiatives.

Hoskins, a candidate for secretary of state, said he believes foreign interference in elections is occurring in Missouri. But when asked if he could provide an example, Hoskins said he couldn’t because of the complexity of the process.

“I believe that foreign governments would not just give directly to one PAC that is promoting or trying to kill an initiative or something that’s on the ballot,” he said.

“It’s probably funneled through a million different ways, four or five different LLCs or companies or PACs or non-for-profits before it actually got to the place where they bought the ads or radio, TV, social media, newspaper, whatever it is,” Hoskins said. “And that’s where it’s very tough to follow the money trail.”

Elizabeth Ziegler, executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, which is charged with overseeing campaign finance reports, said the agency doesn’t have “any final enforcement actions toward contributions (to) campaign finance committees from foreign nationals.”

Article 8 Section 23, paragraph (16) of the Missouri Constitution also provides protections against contributions made by foreign governments, whether they go toward a candidate committee, campaign committee or a ballot measure:

“(16) No campaign committee, candidate committee, continuing committee, exploratory committee, political party committee, and political party shall knowingly accept contributions from:

(a) Any natural person who is not a citizen of the United States;

(b) A foreign government; or

(c) Any foreign corporation that does not have the authority to transact business in this state pursuant to chapter 347, RSMo, as amended from time to time.”

‘People versus politicians’

Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, said there are two underlying reasons he believes are behind Republicans’ motivation to push measures intended to make it harder to vote.

“First, it is a way to appeal to GOP primary voters,” Squire said. “Republican incumbents want to make sure that they are not vulnerable to a challenge from their right. Second, there is a calculation that making voting harder will hurt Democratic voters more than Republican voters, though that may not prove to be the case.”

This is an election year for state offices and many Republican incumbents who are termed-out in the legislature are running for various statewide offices. As a result, rhetoric on the Senate floor this session has been filled with talk that sounded more and more like campaign speeches.

“Ultimately, this push, it’s more of the national narrative bleeding down into the state,” said Connor Luebbert, a lead advocate for the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition.

Or it just may be a fight between people and their politicians.

“In the baseball game of politics, it’s people versus politicians and the politicians want their home runs to count for double,” Rizzo said.


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