Today, a broad coalition of organizations from across the political spectrum filed a ballot initiative in Missouri to protect voting rights, and HSUS will be actively supporting the campaign. If passed in the November 2012 election, this constitutional amendment, filed by the Voter Protection Alliance, would require a three-quarters majority of each chamber of the Legislature or another vote of the people in order to amend a citizen initiative. Right now, a simple majority is all that’s needed to overturn a citizen initiative. The coalition must gather the needed signatures to qualify for the 2012 ballot.
There’s a lot more at stake here than just animal protection concerns. In addition to working to overturn Prop B, state lawmakers are also attempting to undo citizen-approved measures dealing with the minimum wage and clean energy. According to seasoned political observers, no state legislature in the nation has been more aggressive in overturning citizen initiatives than Missouri’s legislature.
After Missouri voters passed Prop B to crack down on
puppy mills, some lawmakers are trying to repeal it.
Let’s face it, no citizens’ group or coalition would advance an initiative if a majority of lawmakers supported the reform. The initiative is a default option when lawmakers refuse to enact popular reforms. Animal protection groups used the process to outlaw cockfighting in Missouri 1998 and then to crack down on puppy mills in 2010, precisely because lawmakers blocked these sensible reforms year after year. Other causes and interest groups have often had to use the initiative process when special interests held too much sway with lawmakers and refused to enact modest changes in the law.
“A narrow legislative majority should not override the vote of millions of Missourians,” said state Rep. Scott Sifton, D-96, who supports the Voter Protection Act and has introduced a similar measure in the legislature. “The time has come for the Missouri Constitution to protect the will of the voters.”
The Voter Protection Act allows the state lawmakers to continue to exercise their legislative authority, and if there are corrections or refinements needed, they will change an initiative if they can build consensus and secure a three-fourths vote. But by requiring a higher threshold, the Voter Protection Act will protect citizen initiatives from arrogant attempts by lawmakers to substitute their judgment for that of the people.
A majority of states with the citizen initiative process limit the legislature’s ability to unilaterally ignore the will of the voters. Arizona and Michigan have similar three-quarters standards for amending citizen initiatives. Arkansas and Nebraska require a two-thirds majority.
In the United States, the power is held by the people. In our republican form of government, we vest power in elected lawmakers to conduct our business and to honor the will of the people in their actions. But a large number of states give lawmaking power directly to the people in the form of the initiative process. When lawmakers subvert that process, it leads to a weakening of our democracy and of public confidence in our government and our elections. Today’s filing of the Voter Protection Act is a necessary move to protect our democracy and to see that power continues to reside with the people, not only with a small class of elected officials.