A Missouri House committee approved four versions of proposals to overhaul the initiative petition process on party-line votes, despite warnings of well-funded opposition if lawmakers put one on the ballot.

Since early in the 20th century, Missouri voters have had the ability to propose new laws and constitutional amendments – and challenge laws passed in the General Assembly – by gathering signatures to put issues on the ballot. 

Republicans have made it a priority to change the thresholds for getting constitutional amendments on the ballot and to pass them. A constitutional amendment has become the preferred way of proposing initiatives because it takes a second statewide vote to change anything passed by voters, while a statutory change can be altered by lawmakers with a signature from the governor.

Currently, it requires signatures equal to 8% of the vote cast for governor in six of the state’s eight congressional districts to propose a constitutional amendment and 5% in six districts to propose a change in state law.

All initiatives, like ballot measures proposed by lawmakers, require only a simple majority to pass.

The first proposal approved by the committee would require ballot initiatives to receive 60% of votes to pass but keeps the current thresholds for signatures to get the initiative on the ballot.  This bill, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Mike Henderson, originally proposed increasing the requirement for ballot access to 10% of the vote cast for governor in all eight congressional districts to be placed on the ballot in addition to the 60% majority on election day to pass.

The changes proposed in the other plans approved by the committee vary in the ways they raise the bar. One would keep the simple majority for statewide passage but also require that it receive a majority in 82 of 163 Missouri House districts. Another would require a constitutional amendment to receive a majority equal to more than half of all registered voters, making it impossible to pass anything when turnout is less than half of the electorate.

Any significant change will draw opposition from groups that have used the ballot to limit new taxes, expand Medicaid or legalize marijuana in recent elections. The Missouri Association of Realtors, which spent more than $10 million over two elections on successful initiatives, has already said it is ready to oppose changes.

Senate Democratic Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said if voters can’t sidestep legislators by taking issues to the ballot, they will start changing the legislature.

“Last I checked, they were in the majority,” Rizzo said. “So if they’re gonna change the legislature, it won’t be beneficial to them.”