Firefighters file lawsuit against secretary of state's office

Thursday, August 22, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- For the second time in three days, a group is challenging Secretary of State Matt Blunt's decision to keep a proposal off the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

Supporters of a measure seeking collective bargaining powers for fire and ambulance personnel filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Cole County Circuit Court. The suit questions Blunt's Aug. 13 finding that not enough valid signatures had been gathered by the group.

The Missouri State Council of Fire Fighters alleges in its lawsuit that Blunt's office provided mislabeled and outdated copies of the state's centralized voter registration database, which the group used to verify the signatures.

"The acts of the secretary of state are unlawful under Missouri law and arbitrary and capricious," the 12-page lawsuit said.

The group alleges that Blunt's office checked the signatures against new voter rolls created by congressional redistricting -- not those used when the petitions were submitted earlier in the year.

John Corbett, president of the Missouri State Council of Fire Fighters, said the old lines were all the group had to go by. "They moved the lines on us and on the people who legally signed the petition. If we go back to the old lines, we'll have plenty of signatures."

A similar argument was made Monday in a lawsuit also filed in Cole County Circuit Court by supporters of a proposal to raise Missouri's tobacco taxes to benefit health care programs after Blunt declined to put the issue on the ballot.

Spence Jackson, a spokesman for Blunt, said the secretary of state's office is prepared to defend its position in both cases.

Not enough signatures

Last week, Blunt said the firefighter group failed to meet the signature threshold in the 9th Congressional District, where local election authorities invalidated 5,137 signatures and Blunt's office invalidated another 378.

That dropped the number of valid signatures in that district to 23,474 -- 226 short of the constitutional requirement.

Blunt's office reported that some petition signers apparently forged names. Among the petition signatures invalidated were the names of several deceased Missouri voters, while several invalidated names were written in the same handwriting.

Other signatures were invalidated because they were submitted by people who had not registered with the state as petition circulators by the May 4 deadline for filing petitions.

Supporters turned in more than 206,000 petition signatures. They needed 125,029 valid signatures of registered voters to make the ballot.

The proposal's collective-bargaining powers would have applied to paid firefighters, ambulance personnel and fire and ambulance dispatchers. It was supported by the Missouri State Council of Fire Fighters.

Collective bargaining could be used to decide wages, working hours and all other terms of employment, but would not grant employees the right to strike.

Meanwhile, the earlier lawsuit filed by Citizens for a Healthy Missouri is also seeking to have the measure placed back on the ballot after falling 673 signatures short in the 2nd Congressional District.

Hearings have not been set in either case.

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