May 21, 2022
Senate Finalizes New Congressional Redistricting Plan
The Senate on May 12 voted 22-11 to send a congressional redistricting plan to the governor and then abruptly called it quits for the year a day ahead of the constitutional adjournment deadline. The late-session action allows Missouri to have new congressional districts in place for the Aug. 2 primary election.
A small group of hardline conservative Republicans had blocked Senate action on redistricting all year amid demands for an aggressive gerrymander that would give the GOP a 7-1 advantage in Missouri’s congressional delegation. Most majority Republicans, however, favored maintaining the 6-2 status quo that has been in place for the last decade. Democrats argued that the status quo is itself a gerrymander and that based on the state’s political performance in congressional elections, Missouri should have a 5-3 map.
With a House-approved redistricting bill stuck in committee, Senate Republican leadership invoked a rarely used constitutional procedure to bring the bill directly to the chamber for debate. Although the hardliners decried the move as a “sneak attack,” they ultimately didn’t block a final vote. Since the Senate made no changes to the bill, which the House approved days earlier on a 97-47 vote, it goes straight to the governor, who is expected to sign it into law.
The legislature had to redraw the state’s congressional map to reflect population shifts under the 2020 U.S. Census. But since a new plan wasn’t in place when the candidate filing period ended in March, candidates filed under the outdated congressional map adopted in 2011, sparking at least three lawsuits in state and federal courts seeking to block its use. If lawmakers had failed to enact a redistricting plan, the task would have fallen to a three-judge panel of federal judges.
House Approves Photo Voter Id, Other Election Restrictions
The House of Representatives on May 12 voted 97-47 to grant final passage to controversial legislation that would impose a photo voter identification requirement, make it harder to register people to vote, grant the secretary of state the power to withhold state funding from local election officials and eliminate Missouri’s presidential primary election, among other provisions. The bill now goes to the governor to be signed into law.
House Bill 1878, which the Senate approved a day earlier on a vote of 23-11, also would create a two-week period prior to an election in which Missourians could cast an absentee ballot without offering an excuse. Under existing law, voters must have a statutorily authorized reason for why they can’t vote in person on Election Day in order to vote absentee.
Majority Republicans have been trying to enact a photo voter ID requirement for more than 15 years in order to reduce turnout among racial minorities and other groups that tend to support Democrats and are most likely not to have a government-issued photo ID. However, the Missouri Supreme Court has struck down previous efforts for placing an unconstitutional restriction on the fundamental right to vote. A lawsuit challenging the latest photo ID requirement is expected.
If the March presidential preference primary is eliminated, Missouri would revert to the caucus system under which members of each party meet in person to determine which candidates should get the state’s delegates to their respective party’s national presidential nominating convention. Missouri switched to the primary system for the 2000 presidential cycle. In 2012, however, the Missouri Republican Party disregarded the outcome of the state’s presidential preference primary because it was held too early under national party rules and selected a different candidate using the caucus system.
Compromise Charter School Funding Bill Wins Final Passage
The House of Representatives on May 12 voted 109-28-11 to grant final passage to legislation that would increase state funding for charter schools without taking resources from the Kansas City and St. Louis school districts. The Senate previously voted 29-5 in favor of the measure, which now goes to the governor.
The final version of House Bill 1552 calls for adjusting the statutory formula for distributing state funding to local schools so that charter schools would receive additional funding without reducing the amount of money going to the local districts. The plan, the result of a compromise reached in the Senate, would cost about $62 million in additional funding for the upcoming fiscal year. As originally proposed, the bill would have redirected millions of dollars in state funding from the Kansas City and St. Louis school districts to the charter schools in their jurisdictions.
Charter schools are public schools that operate independently of their local school district and are exempt from many state education regulations. At present, they are allowed to operate only in Kansas City and St. Louis.
HB 1552 also includes reforms to how charter schools operate, such as requiring they be run by a not-for-profit entity and a mandate that only Missouri residents can be charter school board members. In addition, the bill also updates the rules for operating on-line virtual schools.
Initiative Petitions Filed On Legal Pot, Ranked-Choice Voting
Supporters of separate initiative petitions to legalize recreational marijuana in Missouri and create a system of ranked-choice voting for state and federal elections turned in signatures by the May 8 deadline in hopes of getting their proposals on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot. The Missouri Secretary of State’s Office must now verify that each petition has sufficient signatures to go before voters.
The initiative process allows voters to bypass the General Assembly to independently propose and enact legislation. Putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot requires a minimum of about 172,000 signatures from registered Missouri voters. According to The Associated Press, supporters of the marijuana initiative said they collected more than 385,000 signatures, while backers of the elections proposal touted gathering more than 300,000 signatures.
The recreational marijuana measure follows up on a successful 2019 initiative petition that legalized pot for medical use. In addition to legalizing recreational marijuana use for those age 21 and over, it also would automatically expunge past convictions for marijuana-related crimes – other than driving under the influence – for non-violent offenders.
Under the elections initiative, candidates for the state legislature, statewide executive branch office or Congress would appear on the same primary ballot without regard to party, with the top four candidates advancing to the general election. During that election, voters could vote for multiple candidates, ranking who they like best in order of preference. If no candidate received a majority on the first tabulation, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated and their votes redistributed among the other candidates based on each voter’s preference. That process would continue until a winner emerged.
The signature verification process typically takes months, but there is an expedited process the secretary of state can use to get it done in a couple weeks. If that process is used, it’s possible the petitions could be verified in time for the governor to exercise his authority to move one or both measures to the Aug. 2 primary ballot.
House Defeats GOP Attempt To Limit Teaching About Racism
On a strong bipartisan vote of 60-81-1, the House of Representatives rejected Republican legislation that sought to restrict teaching about how race and racism is discussed in public schools and grant parents overly expansive rights that could have made it harder for schools to operate. Democrats unanimously opposed the measure, as did 36 Republicans.
House Joint Resolution 110 proposed adding a so-called “Parents’ Bill of Rights” to the Missouri Constitution. Supporters said it would protect the ability of parents to direct their child’s education and object to the teaching of ideas they find objectionable. Opponents said it was a thinly veiled attempt to eliminate teaching about unpleasant aspects of American history and society and empower some individual parents to dictate what all children are taught.
Lawmakers Approve New Regulations For Large Power Lines
A controversial power transmission line being constructed across northern Missouri will continue, but similar projects could be much harder to develop under legislation the House of Representatives sent to the governor on a 111-32-1 vote on May 10. The Senate had previously voted 19-4 in favor of the bill.
The Grain Belt Express is a 780-mile transmission line to carry energy generated by wind turbines in Kansas across Missouri and Illinois before hooking into a power grid in Indiana. After lengthy court battles, Missouri regulators finally granted the project the go-ahead a few years ago, but some rural lawmakers have since sought to derail the project by blocking the use of eminent domain to acquire the necessary land.
Under House Bill 2005, future projects would face additional regulatory hurdles before being allowed to use eminent domain, and landowners would have to be paid 150 percent of fair market value for their property. Grain Belt itself, however, would not be subject to the new restrictions.