Amendment 1, which enacts a series of reforms of the Missouri Legislature, passed in November 2018 by a wide margin (62 percent to 38 percent). Voters statewide embraced its measures to rein in lobbyist gifts to legislators, limit large campaign contributions, require the legislature’s business to be conducted in public, and reform legislative redistricting to be fairer and more objective (i.e., stop gerrymandering). Voters also overwhelmingly passed Proposition B, which will gradually increase the minimum wage to $12 per hour in 2023.
Now, however, the legislature is pushing to overrule the people. They want to change critical components of both measures. Numerous bills have been introduced to roll back the state’s Sunshine Law, allow racial and partisan gerrymandering, and even make it much harder for citizens to pass any such initiative in the future. We need to let our legislators know this power grab is unacceptable!
State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, said at an April 1 hearing, “We are a republic here. We are not a democracy.” No, Senator, we are supposed to live in a representative democracy; we elect representatives who then do their best to carry out the will of constituents. Sater apparently thinks that only the legislature should have any say over what the legislature does. That is certainly not a healthy democracy.
Let’s look at what our legislators are working on:
Sunshine Law: The House passed Houe Bill 445, which would make it impossible for ordinary people to see what lies behind state or local elected officials’ decisions. Under our current Sunshine Law, constituents can access the background discussions leading up to decisions about zoning, allocation of funds, tightening or loosening of environmental regulations, fee increases, financial incentives for businesses, etc. Amendment 1 included legislators in these requirements for the first time. HB 445 would re-impose their cloak of secrecy, and extend it to the mail, email and other records of all city, county and state elected officials. No one could find out what data were used, who suggested the action, or who weighed in for and against it behind the scenes. All public business would be conducted in the dark right up to the meeting in which they vote. Senate Bill 132 would do the same thing, but exempt only the legislators from public disclosure. These proposed laws are a clear end-run around the vigilance of the press and the people.
Redistricting: Numerous proposals have been filed to undo the nonpartisan redistricting procedure put in place by Amendment 1. Senate Joint Resolution 13 would make sweeping changes that give the legislature all the power for redistricting. This would be even more biased than the old system that Amendment 1 replaced. The bill is sweetened with provisions that would reduce the size of the legislature, and it would require another statewide vote. SJR13 would assure one-party rule in Missouri for decades to come.
Initiative petitions: Amendment 1 and Proposition B began as initiative petitions, which went through a strenuous process of drafting, approval, signature collection, and courtroom defense to make it onto the ballot last November. Senate Bill 5, Senate Joint Resolution 1, and no fewer than nine House bills would make this process even more difficult and expensive in order to deter future initiatives. SB 5 (which will be up for a vote soon) would raise the fees and require that all signatures be thrown out if a court changes the wording on the ballot (which they almost always do). SJR 1 raises the number of signatures needed and requires a two-thirds majority for passage of a constitutional amendment (except for repeal of Amendment 1, which would still require only a simple majority).
Minimum Wage: Yes, our legislators are also doing their best to undermine the people’s will on this issue. Senate Bill B10, which will be up for a vote soon, would allow employers to pay minors only 85 percent of the legal minimum wage. Even worse, it would freeze the wages for employees who receive tips at 50 percent of January 2019 levels, so they would not benefit from the gradual rise in wages everyone else would receive. Small retail and service businesses are already exempt from the law, so this unfair provision would benefit large employers on the backs of workers who are struggling to make ends meet. This is not what Missouri voters wanted!
We want our government, at all levels, to represent our interests, be transparent, welcome our input and respect the limits of its authority. If our legislators pass these bills, they will be trampling on these principles. Please let them know that the people have spoken and we intend to hold them accountable.
Karl Skala represents Columbia's Third Ward on the Columbia City Council.