Missouri Senate Republicans Filibuster in Hopes of Making it Harder for Voters to Amend Constitution
A faction of the Missouri Senate ended a roughly 16-hour filibuster on Tuesday that was meant to pressure their fellow Republicans into fast-tracking legislation that would make it harder for voters to amend the state constitution.
The Freedom Caucus' push comes as abortion-rights supporters are trying to get a measure on the November ballot that would guarantee the right to abortion in the state constitution.
Missouri Republicans have been trying for years to make it harder to amend the constitution. But pressure increased when the campaign to restore abortion rights announced plans to put the issue to a public vote this November.
State Sen. Bill Eigel, a member of the Freedom Caucus, said the hope is for Republican Gov. Mike Parson to put a measure on voter-referred constitutional amendments on the August primary ballot. Then, the higher approval threshold could be in place before the general election.
“The abortion question in front of us is the immediate threat. Without question,” the 46-year-old Eigel said. “But I think this has been building for a few years.”
Attempts to keep measures that would protect abortion access off the ballot in Missouri are akin to those in some other Republican-led states to target the ballot initiative process, a form of direct democracy available to voters in only about half the states.
Ohio abortion rights advocates have said that last year’s statewide vote to enshrine abortion rights in their state's constitution was as much about abortion as it was a referendum on democracy itself. They said Republicans tried to obstruct the democratic process before the vote and attempted to ignore the will of voters after the amendment passed.
Ohio Republicans called a special election in August in an attempt to raise the threshold for passing future constitutional amendments from a simple majority to 60%. But that effort was defeated at the polls and was widely seen as aiming to undermine the abortion amendment.
Missouri Freedom Caucus members spoke for hours Monday and Tuesday to a seemingly contradictory end: delaying unrelated work to pressure state Senate leaders to act more quickly on the top GOP priority.
The standoff ended Tuesday morning, with Freedom Caucus members allowing a confirmation vote on several gubernatorial appointees they had been blocking.
Eigel said in exchange, a state Senate committee minutes later voted out a Freedom Caucus-endorsed measure that would raise the bar for voters to approve constitutional amendments.
Currently, Missouri voters can enact constitutional amendments by a majority vote. In addition to that requirement, state Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman's proposal would require the approval of a majority of votes cast in a majority of the state's 163 state House districts, including more conservative rural ones.
If passed by the Legislature, Coleman's measure would still need voter approval.
Senate leaders said the disruptions by the Freedom Caucus only delayed action on the very policies those members support.
Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden on Tuesday tweeted that “nothing has changed in any way relative” to voter-referred constitutional amendments. But he said because of the infighting, "other top priorities like education reform, tort reform, and Missouri’s crackdown on illegal immigration are now behind schedule.”
“It has to be noted that we are in the exact same place that we would have been had certain members of the Senate not chosen to hijack business for the past two weeks,” Rowden said.
Speaking to hundreds of allies who gathered in the Capitol halls to show their support, Freedom Caucus members lauded the end of the filibuster as a win.
Meanwhile, those who want to keep the current system rallied a floor below in the Capitol Rotunda.
“Our initiative petition process has been a sacred constitution right for Missourians across the political spectrum for more than a century,” Missouri Voter Protection Coalition Director Denise Lieberman said to a crowd of more than 100. “It is how we make our voices heard.”