JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a proposal that would undo the redistricting process enacted months ago by voters through an initiative petition, then roughly an hour later passed a bill to charge a fee to file initiative petitions.
The efforts come after Missouri voters in November passed the "Clean Missouri" constitutional amendment. That measure created a new position of nonpartisan demographer to draft state House and Senate maps after the 2020 census with a goal of achieving "partisan fairness" and "competitiveness."
The amendment also limited lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, made legislative records open to the public, lowered campaign contribution limits for legislative candidates and lengthened the time lawmakers must wait after leaving office before becoming lobbyists.
While the amendment drew bipartisan support, some Missouri Republicans criticized it as a way to help Democrats win elections through redistricting. Some black lawmakers also said it could dilute minority representation.
The Republican-led House in response is pushing a measure that would ditch key redistricting components from Clean Missouri, which Republican sponsor Rep. Dean Plocher said might not have been aptly explained to voters amid the numerous other ethics provisions in it.
"Did they have a choice, or did they vote because they didn't like the system before and then they wanted ethics reform?" Plocher said.
Instead of a state demographer, Plocher's proposal calls for bipartisan panels to redraw districts, as was done in the past. It would also make "partisan fairness" and "competitiveness" secondary to other factors, such as districts being compact and not disenfranchising minority voters.
The House voted 100-49 to give initial approval to the measure. If given final approval by the House and Senate, it would go before voters.
Some Democrats slammed the effort. Democratic Rep. Jon Carpenter of Kansas City said the measure "directly and unequivocally overturns the will of the voters" during the November election.
He said lawmakers should be "honest" about what the proposal would do.
"That oughta be the case that gets made to the people of Missouri," Carpenter told colleagues on the House floor. "That when they voted 'yes' on Amendment 1 just a few months ago by an overwhelming margin, that they got it wrong, that we know better and that we're going to pass something new for them."
Plocher's proposal would also go further than Clean Missouri on some ethics policies for lawmakers. While Clean Missouri limited lobbyist gifts to lawmakers to $5, his measure would ban gifts outright.
Later Tuesday, the Republican-led House voted 104-42 to institute a $350 refundable filing fee for initiative petitions, plus an additional $25 for every page after the 10th page.
Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has said that could cut down on people filing multiple versions of the same ballot proposal, a common strategy among advocacy groups to keep options open while getting the time-consuming process started.
Rep. Gina Mitten said the legislation sends a signal that lawmakers will "let the voters decide only the stuff that we decide they get to vote on."
"And that to me flies in the face of democracy," Mitten, a St. Louis Democrat, said. "It flies in the face of what voters want and care about."
The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration.