Elections in fall put 3 issues on ballot statewide

Saturday, September 7, 2002

STATE CONSTITUTION

By Marc Powers ~ Southeast Missourian

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri voters are being asked to make three changes to the state constitution on Nov. 5.

All three proposed constitutional amendments were placed on the ballot by the General Assembly. None would carry a cost to state taxpayers if adopted.

Amendment 1 would allow for home rule in St. Louis, which is the only Missouri municipality having the legal status of both a city and a county in the constitution. As a result of the city's unique status, it has many governmental functions of both a city and a county.

While city voters can change St. Louis' municipal functions under the city charter, only the state legislature can change its county duties. Amendment 1 would allow city residents more control over local government.

As with all constitutional amendments, granting St. Louis more governing authority must be decided by a statewide ballot.

The sponsor of the amendment, state Rep. Derio Gambaro, D-St. Louis, said the measure would put St. Louisans on an equal footing with residents of other Missouri cities in terms of local decision making and carries no downside for voters outside the metro area.

"I would hope Missouri voters would want to give the city of St. Louis some flexibility and control over the offices of government that everyone else in the state has," Gambaro said.

Gambaro also said state lawmakers would have to spend less time on issues solely of interest to the city.

Amendment 3 would provide a limited exemption to legislative term limits.

At present, lawmakers can serve no more than eight years in each chamber of the General Assembly. However, a partial term counts as a full term. For example, someone elected to serve the final year of a four-year Senate term can serve only one full term and is forced to leave after only five years.

Amendment 3 would allow a senator serving a partial term of less than two years to serve another two complete terms, or 10 years total. A House member who served less than half of a full, two-year term to be eligible for four more full terms, or a total of nine years.

Lawmakers elected to partial terms prior to Dec. 5 could not benefit from the exemption.

Missouri Term Limits, the group that fought for the passage of term limits has taken no position on Amendment 3, calling it a minor technical change. Voters passed term limit legislation in 1992.

Amendment 4 would allow local political subdivisions to jointly own and operate utilities without being subject to the directives of the Public Service Commission, which regulates private utility companies.

State Rep. Mark Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said the constitution currently allows a city or county to run a utility on its own without PSC oversight but discourages cooperative efforts by subjecting them to PSC regulation.

"Because of the wording of the constitution, a city is exempt from falling under the rules of the Public Service Commission, but a city in concert with another city is not exempt," said Richardson, a co-sponsor of the amendment.

Democratic former Secretary of State Bekki Cook of Cape Girardeau and Republican former State Auditor Margaret Kelly began campaigning for passage of the measure this week on behalf of Yes on 4, the group backing the change.

As of Friday, Yes on 4 was the only organized campaign supporting or opposing any of the proposed amendments.

At the moment, there is no Amendment 2 as that proposal, which called for raising state taxes on cigarettes, was barred from the ballot by Secretary of State Matt Blunt. Supporters tried to put the measure before voters via initiative petition, but Blunt said the petition fell short of the requisite number of valid signatures in one congressional district.

Blunt also invalidated another initiative effort that sought collective bargaining rights for firefighters. That measure would have been Amendment 5.

Supporters of both rejected proposals are asking a judge to order the measures on the ballot. A hearing the case will be heard next week.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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