Smart Decision 2014 - Reviewing Tuesday's Ballot Initiatives
COLUMBIA - Missouri voters get the opportunity Tuesday to vote on five separate measures to amend the state's constitution.
All of the proposed constitutional amendments were approved by the General Assembly during its 2013 and 2014 sessions and would need a simple majority to be approved. KOMU 8 News has compiled information about each proposed amendment to help voters across mid-Missouri make an informed decision on Election Day.
Commonly known as the "Right to Farm" amendment, it would institutionalize the right of Missouri farmers and ranchers to farm and ranch. The bill was passed by the legislature during its 2013 regular session and received almost unanimous support from Republicans.
The bill did not attract a single Democrat in either chamber. However, Attorney General Chris Koster, who's widely considered the party's candidate for governor in 2016, announced his support for the amendment in early July.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said during a recent press conference that he's leaning toward "no." Nixon told The Associated Press he typically opposes amending the state's constitution unless absolutely necessary.
Proponents of the measure include Reps. Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia), and Caleb Jones, (R-Columbia), while all three Columbia-area Democrats oppose the bill.
State Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), also has come out in favor of the amendment.
Supporters said the proposal prevents the government from interfering with farming or ranching activity, however opponents said they think it favors big corporations rather than family farmers.
KOMU 8 News spoke with local farmer and small business owner Jake Davis in June at a rally in opposition to the measure. Davis said the amendment is misleading.
"It has a lot more to do with big agribusiness and corporations looking for blanket immunity to take action that might otherwise be regulated by state statue or local ordinances," he said.
The amendment has gotten support from agribusiness giant Monsanto, which is headquartered in St. Louis, and has drawn millions of dollars of campaign contributions. The Associated Press reported back in January that agribusiness is looking to get the amendment passed as a way to prevent lawsuits from animal rights groups and opponents of genetically modified crops.
Eliminating barriers to owning firearms in Missouri has been on the agenda for House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka), and his caucus, since early-2013, when Republicans in both chambers held party lines to pass Senate Bill 436, commonly known as the Second Amendment Preservation Act.
The bill would have codified several features found in Amendment Five, including the provision that declares a right to own a firearm in Missouri as an "unalienable right."
That bill was vetoed by Nixon, who said the proposal was unconstitutional. Republican lawmakers came within one vote of overriding Nixon's veto, however the bill ultimately died in the Senate when Senate President Pro Tempore Tom Dempsey (R-St.Charles) and Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard (R-Joplin) voted against the bill alongside Senate Democrats.
Republicans tweaked the initial proposal and crafted Amendment Five. Led by Richard and Schaefer, the amendment passed through the Senate with full support of Senate Republicans and later passed the House.
While the measure moved through the legislature fairly quickly, Amendment Five wound up being challenged in court, but not on its constitutional merits.
Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat, certified the measure in June, but gun control activists and the St. Louis police chief filed suit claiming the wording of the ballot initiative was unfair and insufficient.
The proposal also has drawn State Auditor Tom Schweich, a Republican who's likely to run for governor in 2016, into the fray. While he supports the proposed constitutional amendment, he said in June that the state might be saddled with increased litigation defending the law.
According to The Associated Press, the Auditor's office used data provided by the Nixon Administration, the Office of the Attorney General and other opponents of the proposal while the measure's supporters declined to provide their own data.
One of the bill's supporters, Sen. Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City), told KOMU 8 News that the ability for Missouri gun owners to be defended by the Attorney General is one of Amendment Five's goals.
"I can go to the attorney general and tell him to defend me as a citizen of the state of Missouri," Kehoe said during an interview for another story on the proposal, saying the attorney general "would be compelled to do that."
Any tax increase anywhere in the country has drawn the ire of Republicans and the Tea Party nationwide since the movement entered the mainstream in 2010. Missouri's Amendment Seven is no exception.
The proposal, favored by cities across the state including St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia and dozens of other small towns, would raise the state's sales tax 3/4 percent, or .75 cents on the dollar, in order to fund improvements to the state's infrastructure.
It created a strange coalition in the Legislature.
Rep. Dave Hinson (R-St. Clair) and Kehoe sponsored and managed the bill as a way to shore up the decrease in funding that's plagued MoDOT the last few years as a result of declining revenue from the gasoline tax. The transportation department receives no money from the state's budget, but rather is funded almost entirely from federal grants and the gas tax.
Improved fuel standards have contributed to lower fuel tax revenues, as drivers use less gas.
Some long-term needs were outlined by the transportation department earlier in the summer as part of the measure which sent Amendment Seven to the ballot. MoDOT said some major projects include widening I-70 through much of the state and improving Columbia Regional Airport.
The bill has attracted opposition from outside groups, including the Sierra Club and the Missouri chapter of Americans For Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group. Supporters include the State Chamber of Commerce and the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
Amendment Seven would not be a long term fix. The tax would be temporary and would go back on the ballot in 2024.
Amendment Eight is what appears to be the most uncontroversial amendment on the ballot and would allow the State Lottery Commission to create a lottery ticket to support programs that benefit veterans living in Missouri.
Lawmakers passed the bill unanimously in the House, while just four senators opposed the measure when the bill came up in the upper chamber. If passed, it would be the first time in state history that lottery funds would be allocated toward something other than education.
All proceeds from the Missouri Lottery have gone toward education since 1992 but in recent years revenue from the lottery has declined.
The drop-off has been so steep that Nixon ordered an investigation into the lottery's operations. This year, revenue from the lottery and gambling was $31 million short of expectations and, according to the St.Louis Post-Dispatch, lottery sales have struggled to grow since 2006. Nixon said the lottery shortfall was part of the reason he decided to withhold $35 million in education funding.
The decline in revenue plays into the argument from opponents of Amendment Eight, who say the lottery is an unstable source of revenue.
Kansas, Iowa and Illinois are some other states with similar lottery tickets available. An Associated Press article cited an official in Texas who said that state's veterans tickets have brought in $36.5 million since 2009.
The final proposal to amend the Missouri State Constitution is designed to extend the right to privacy to cover electronic communications and data. Amendment Nine was passed on the last day of the legislative session back in May 2014, with opposition from House Democrats and Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal (D-St. Louis County.)
Amendment Nine has the support of the Missouri chapter of the ACLU, however some Democrats and newspapers across the state have come out against the proposed amendment.
In an editorial, the Kansas City Star said the measure is too vague and the concept needs to be debated more before voters should have the chance to vote on anything.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in June that law enforcement officers need a warrant before they can search a suspect's cell phone. Sen. Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) told the Columbia Missourian that the revelations made by former-NSA contractor Edward Snowden validated the need for Amendment Nine.
If passed, Missouri would be the first state in the country to incorporate electronic privacy into its state constitution.