Our Opinion: The initiative dilemma

A lawmaker has initiated a proposal to ask voters to change the initiative process.

Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, supports an amendment to the state constitution that would increase the range of required signatures to place an initiative to a statewide vote.

The constitution now requires a minimum number of signatures in each of at least two-thirds of the state’s congressional districts. Missouri now has nine congressional districts, but recent census numbers mandate redistricting to reduce that number to eight.

The amendment by Justus would require the minimum number of signatures from all districts.

The initiative process was designed to empower people to petition for laws their elected legislators failed to approve or constitutional amendments those representatives failed to advance to a statewide vote.

In recent years, the process has been used — some would say abused — by wealthy advocates who employ persuasive advertising and paid signature gatherers.

Justus acknowledges the virtue of the initiative process and agrees “direct democracy is an incredibly important tool for the people ...”

But she also decries abuse of the process, which she characterized as “well-funded individuals and organizations who have come in and, essentially, purchased law changes in this state.”

We believe Justus has outlined the problem accurately. The initiative process, designed as a path for grassroots action, has been commandeered by wealthy special interests.

We’re not confident, however, her proposed solution adequately addresses the dilemma.

The increased requirement invariably will prove more difficult and more costly. We fear grassroots efforts will face greater obstacles while advocates with deep pockets simply will reach deeper.

Although we would welcome a viable solution, we know of none that avoids further separating the people from the process.

Before voting on ballot issues, we encourage people to analyze the issues behind the slogans, sound bytes and glitzy campaigns. Voting to enact a law is serious; voting to amend the constitution is momentous.

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