June 16, 2011 06:00 PM

On Tuesday, November 2, 52% of Missouri voters chose to support Proposition B, the so-called Puppy Mill law. Among its several provisions was one to limit the number of dogs a breeder may own to 50 and another dictating the air temperature in which pets were housed. Some argued in this journal that these provisions were problematic (Stanley Cox did so here and Jason Barnes here). Others argued that some of the specifics of Prop B simply put it in conflict with the state constitution.  Later, the legislature voted to amend the language of the law created by Prop B and Governor Nixon signed off.

In response, the sponsors of the original Prop B along with a coalition of groups (listed below) drafted a constitutional amendment, the Your Vote Counts Act, to require that any changes to a voter-approved initiative require a three-fourths vote in both the House and Senate.  They reason that anything passed by a vote of the people should be more difficult to overturn or amend.

This seems to be a recurring problem in Missouri.  According to Washington University professor Gregory Magarian, "Missouri appears to be a national leader in overturning voter initiatives."  The legislature has acted against the publicly stated will of the people on matters dealing with handguns (2003), minimum wage (2006), clean energy (2008) and school funding (2009) in addition to the 2010 puppy mill vote. Sponsors of the measure are right to ask, if the people's will can so easily be overridden, what point is there to a petition process in the first place?

Missouri is not alone in considering some remedy for an overly reactive state legislature.  Eleven states which allow voters to draft legislation through petition or referendum offer added protections from amendment or repeal.  Some require a period of time to elapse before the legislature may amend it or--as in what is suggested for Missouri--require a supermajority vote.

The effort in Missouri is not promoted solely by The Humane Society either. It is supported by right-leaning groups such as Citizens in ChargeAmericans for Tax Reform, the National Taxpayers Union, US Term Limits and Americans for Limited Government.  Among those on the left, the effort is supported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri.

The Missouri Record has published at least five columns urging that the petition process be strengthened:

Most of the above deal with the problems of getting a petition to the ballot--past incompetent or corrupt state officeholders.  But none of those reforms would make a bit of difference if the legislature was free to change voter-approved language for which they did not care.

Certainly, as in the case with the Prop B, the legislature will need to act if a law enacted by petition is blatantly unconstitutional.  The Your Vote Counts Act does not stop the legislature from doing this--it merely increases the threshold needed to overturn the direct express wishes of the people. If enacted, future efforts will require more persuasion and more bipartisanship. Who could be against that?


Patrick Tuohey is president of Market and Communications Research Inc., a public opinion and communication research firm he founded in 1999.

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Reader Comments (4)
I think that prop B is a poor case to use to suport the arguments to stranthen the voice of the people. first the propisation pased by verry low persentage. Secoound the provisions were not fully explained to the voters. Third there laws on the books the control abuse to the animals. so the law was unnecessary. The limit to 50 animals looks to me that small breeders want a way to protect their indestry aganst larger competiters. The fact that the HSUS is involved in this looks to me their is some thing sneeky going on. what is their intrest in this any way? Have thy been infulenced by Hindusim and using goverment to trick us into following that religon aganst our will? Are these animals realy abused or is it in their heads? The best way to fight this stuff is for people who are aganst the masure to explalin what the cons are doing and quote the proposal. All of the provisions should be explained to the voters It would be nice if we had an unbias press who could do this.
9/10/2011 8:57:58 PM  stephen odell  , falcon
Patrick hits the nail on the head with this one. What's the point of a citizen initiative process if the legislature can so easily overturn the will of the voters? We agree that the reforms discussed in this article are common sense solutions to Missouri's problem. I also wanted to make a note that while Citizens in Charge does work with right-leaning groups such as ATR and NTU we also work with left-leaning groups like the ACLU and Common Cause. So in that sense we are not a right-leaning group, but a transpartisan group. We want to make sure that everyone, without regard to partisanship or politics, has the right to petition their government.
6/20/2011 12:01:36 PM  Trevor Ford  , Woodbridge
Great points. But I must correct one item: Citizens in Charge is not a "right-leaning" organization. We stand up straight for everyone's initiative and referendum rights -- right, left and in between.
6/18/2011 11:01:05 AM  Paul Jacob  , Lake Ridge
Each time I see a well-funded proposal to interfere with a particular industry or a citizen's freedoms to pursue anything, I immediately suspect the lefties in our society are behind the effort. Prop B is a good example. I suspect that the money to fund this action came from outside the state and over regulated an industry that was in need of a reform, not total annihilation. The regulations imposed by Prop B were aimed at the smaller operations and makes it impossible for any but the large operations to exist. Typical of the lefties, a shotgun approach when a fly swatter would have done the job. I don't have the evidence to back up my assertions, or suspicions, just common sense and logic of what is the results of the law. The lefties are attempting to turn this state and others into a "progressive" state via small, seemingly innocuous, ordinances, regulations and laws. Those who don't question the wisdom and funding of such efforts are doomed to wake up some day with big brother regulating their every breath. Wake up, folks, before it's too late to stop the liberals from taking over every aspect of your lives. Ask some simple questions of yourself when a change is proposed. Who does it benefit? Where is the funding generating from for the campaign? Who's pushing for the change? How does it stack up with the Constitutions, federal and state? Be an activist to fight against outside interference in our state and communities.
6/17/2011 6:55:53 AM  Jules Guidry  , Battlefield


According to Washington University professor Gregory Magarian, "Missouri appears to be a national leader in overturning voter initiatives."


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