Join our family of curious Kansas Citians

Discover unheard stories about Kansas City, every Thursday.

Thank you for subscribing!

Check your inbox, you should see something from us.

Sign Me Up
Hit enter to search or ESC to close

Democrats Filibuster Bill Making it Harder to Amend Missouri Constitution A battle over ‘ballot candy’ led Democrats to block all action in the Senate overnight with only four days left before the legislature adjourns for the year

Share this story
Above image credit: Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, speaks Thursday at a weekly leadership news conference with (from left) Sens. Doug Beck, D-Affton, Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis, and Brian Williams, D-University City. (Rudi Keller | Missouri Independent)
Sponsor Message Become a Flatland sponsor
4 minute read

A Democratic filibuster of legislation making it harder for Missourians to amend the state constitution through citizen-led initiatives stretched through the night and into its 15th hour Tuesday morning. 

Though Democrats oppose the changes to the initiative petition process, their filibuster was focused on GOP efforts to include “ballot candy” that would add unrelated issues about immigrants voting and foreign fundraising to the question that would appear on the statewide ballot. 

Unless Republicans agree to ditch all of the ballot candy — which was removed when the Senate originally passed the bill in March — Democrats have vowed to block all action in the Senate until the legislative session adjourns at 6 p.m. Friday. 

“Since it is forever,” state Sen. Lauren Arthur, a Kansas City Democrat, said of the amendment. “This is worth fighting and trying to stop.” 

Sen. Lauren Arthur of Kansas City speaks during a 2023 debate in the Missouri Senate.
Sen. Lauren Arthur of Kansas City speaks during a 2023 debate in the Missouri Senate. (Courtesy | Senate Communications)

Republicans show no signs of backing down on the ballot candy, raising the odds that the Senate will be unable to pass anything else before adjourning.

“There is a hope that we are able to find a resolution to move forward so that the rest of session is able to operate,” state Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, a Republican from Arnold sponsoring the initiative petition bill.

If the bill clears the legislature, it would go on the statewide ballot, most likely in August. 

Missourians would be asked whether they want to require constitutional amendments be approved by both a majority of votes statewide and a majority of votes in a majority of the state’s eight congressional districts.

Currently, amendments pass with a simple majority.

Republicans have pushed to change the initiative petition process for years, but the effort picked up steam more recently as a campaign to restore abortion access in Missouri advanced closer to appearing on the ballot. 

These lawmakers on the right have said that without eliminating the simple majority, abortion would likely become legal again. Missouri was the first state to outlaw abortion in nearly every circumstance in June 2022 after Roe v. Wade was overturned. 

State Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, listens at the start of an anti-abortion rally on March 12.
State Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, listens at the start of an anti-abortion rally on March 12. (Annelise Hanshaw | Missouri Independent).

Democrats say the initiative petition process gives voice to citizens when elected officials aren’t acting on the will of the people.

“There must be some serious concerns that this isn’t the will of the people – the majority of the folks in the state of Missouri want autonomy over their bodies,” said state Sen. Steve Roberts, a St. Louis Democrat. “Otherwise why would you lead a misguided effort to confuse voters to make it more difficult to have their voices heard?”

Threat of the Previous Question

In addition to the changes to the initiative petition process, the bill being blocked in the Senate would ask Missourians if they want to bar non-citizens from voting and ban foreign entities from contributing to or sponsoring constitutional amendments. 

Non-citizens have been barred from voting in Missouri since 1924. Federal law already bans foreign entities from getting involved.

Arthur said these “are not real threats,” but rather “scary hypotheticals.”

During Senate debate Monday, Democratic state Sen. John Rizzo of Independence said he’s been approached by Republicans trying to negotiate to take some, but not all, of the ballot candy. 

“No,” Rizzo said he told them. “I’m not deceiving voters just a little bit.”Arthur replied that Democrats will only end the filibuster if the ballot candy is completely removed, or if they’re forced to through a “previous question,” a rarely-used procedural maneuver to cut off a filibuster and force a vote on a bill.

The previous question is considered a last resort in the Senate because the response is typically total gridlock as Democrats would use the chamber’s rules to derail the rest of the legislative session. 

During a television interview broadcast Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin referred to the previous question motion as the “nuclear” option, saying she hasn’t made a decision yet whether to use it to pass initiative petition legislation or not. 

But last week, state Sen. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican and a member of the Missouri Freedom Caucus, said his party is ready to use “any means necessary” to pass the initiative petition bill.

Sen. Rick Brattin, center, makes a point on April 2 during the Freedom Caucus weekly news conference also attended by Sens. Denny Hoskins, left, and Bill Eigel.
Sen. Rick Brattin, center, makes a point on April 2 during the Freedom Caucus weekly news conference also attended by Sens. Denny Hoskins, left, and Bill Eigel. (Rudi Keller | Missouri Independent)

Republicans have said the change is necessary, arguing Missouri’s constitution is too easy to change, and that passing this amendment would give more voice to rural voters. Democrats say the bill is an attack on the concept of “one person, one vote.”

Senate Democrats on Monday continued to argue that such a constitutional change would make it virtually impossible for citizen-led ballot measures to ever be successful. 

A February analysis by The Independent found that under the concurrent majority standard being proposed by Republicans, as few as 23% of voters could defeat a ballot measure. This was done by looking at the majority in the four districts with the fewest number of voters in 2020 and 2022.

State Sen. Tracy McCreery, an Olivette Democrat, cited this story on Monday afternoon, saying that this outcome “should raise alarms.”

“It will make politicians even more powerful,” McCreery said. “It takes power away from the people and puts way more power into the hands of politicians.”

At about 4 a.m., Rizzo took the floor again for his second filibuster shift this week.

“I don’t see the end in sight any time soon,” he said.

“Unfortunately we have to be here in the last week of session as bills are dying minute by minute, and lobbyists are probably running around somewhere here in a few hours screaming and yelling about why their bills are dying,” Rizzo said. “Because they can’t live without ballot candy.”

Anna Spoerre covers reproductive health care for the Missouri Independent, where this story first appeared. Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

Like what you are reading?

Discover more unheard stories about Kansas City, every Thursday.

Thank you for subscribing!

Check your inbox, you should see something from us.

Enter Email
Your support helps Flatland’s storytellers cover the issues that matter to this community. Give what you can to help in-depth, nonprofit journalism thrive in Kansas City. Support Local Journalism
Sponsor Message Become a Flatland sponsor

Ready to read next

Early Morning Calls. Barren Chicken Barns. Millions in Debt.

Tyson Foods says recent plant closures ‘drove out waste from the business.’ Contract chicken farmers are now stuck with uncertainty and massive loans.

Read Story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *