Missouri News Network
Members of the Freedom Caucus said Thursday that they expect to debate initiative reform legislation in the Senate as early as next week.
“This is unprecedented movement,” said Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville. “Because of us pushing in, this has been pushed to the forefront and next week, hopefully, as the floor leader and the Senate pro tem has promised, we’re going to see this through until we get it over into the House.”
Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said in a separate press conference Thursday he believes it’s not impossible to “get it done” on initiative petition legislation.
“We’re a little bit behind on some of this stuff, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t get it done,” Rowden said. “We’ll still have some time to move through the process, and hopefully we can do that.”
While several pieces of legislation were introduced this session that would increase the threshold for voters to approve an initiative to amend the state constitution, Senate Freedom Caucus members said this week they are prioritizing Senate Joint Resolutions 61 and 83.
Both resolutions would change the approval threshold from a simple statewide majority, defined as 50% of voters plus one, to a simple statewide majority and approval by voters in at least 82 of 163 House districts.
The voter approval provision is often referred to as a concurrent majority. Members of the Freedom Caucus were adamant about preserving provisions that protect a concurrent majority, calling the current 50% plus one standard “generic.”
If the resolutions pass the Missouri General Assembly, voters would have to approve the changes in a statewide vote. Backers of the changes hope that they can put it on the ballot in August or at some point before November.
They are under pressure to try to change the rules for initiative approval because they are concerned that there will be a successful effort to place a ballot initiative restoring abortion rights on the November ballot.
The battle this year to pass ballot initiative changes resulted in some public clashes on the Senate floor, with Freedom Caucus members complaining that Senate Republican leaders were not moving fast enough on what many Republicans see as a priority.
Hard-right Freedom Caucus members filibustered, holding up essential Senate business like confirming gubernatorial appointments, in an effort to force action. That led Rowden to strip the Freedom Caucus of their committee chairmanships and parking spots in the Capitol.
“The real takeaway from that is I think it’s pretty clear we’ve made our leadership uncomfortable with our tactic style on the Senate floor,” Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said during Thursday’s press conference. “We aren’t going to be silenced by the tactics of our leadership.”
Eigel also put the Republican leadership on notice that the Senate might not have seen the last of such hard-line tactics.
“This should serve as a template for the other big priorities the Freedom Caucus is going to fight for,” Eigel said.
Those priorities include cutting the budget, tax cuts, curbing sports betting, curtailing illegal immigration and passing legislation that prohibits foreign entities from owning Missouri farmland, according to Freedom Caucus members.
Republican leaders of the Missouri House of Representatives have said they’re also looking at initiative petition changes, but are waiting to see what happens with such legislation moving through the Senate chamber. Last session, the efforts to enact reform easily passed the House but died in the Senate.