New constitution possible for state after Nov. 5 vote

Sunday, September 15, 2002

GOVERNING MISSOURI

By Marc Powers ~ Southeast Missourian

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Since becoming a state 181 years ago, Missouri has had four constitutions. If voters give the go ahead in November, the state could be on the path toward its fifth.

The current Missouri Constitution was adopted by voters in 1945. A provision of that document requires that the question of whether to call a convention to write a new state charter automatically be put on the statewide ballot every 20 years, starting in 1962.

With 151 pages of small type, excluding a 48-page index, it has become one of the longest state constitutions in the country.

Former state Sen. Al Spradling Jr. of Cape Girardeau, who served from 1952 to 1977, said the idea of a constitutional convention garnered scant notice during its last two appearances on the ballot.

"It got absolutely no public attention," Spradling said. "I don't think a dollar was spent campaigning for or against it."

In 1962, 63.7 percent of voters rejected calling a convention. The opposition increased to 69.5 percent in 1982.

So far, no groups have organized to campaign for or against the latest opportunity to call a convention, which will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The convention question has its origins in Missouri's third state charter, adopted in 1875. In 1942, 58 percent of voters authorized calling the convention that led to the 1945 constitution.

Some top legislative leaders, including Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, and House Speaker Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, said they see little need for a modern convention as the constitution can easily be amended without one.

Since 1982, 77 proposed amendments have been placed on the statewide ballot either by the General Assembly through legislation or the public by the initiative petition process. Approximately 60 percent of those amendments have been adopted. Missourians will decide another three amendments this fall -- home rule for St. Louis city, a technical change to legislative term limits and easing the restrictions on local governments operating joint utilities.

If voters were to endorse a convention this year, Gov. Bob Holden would have to call for an election to choose delegates within three to six months.

There would be two delegates from each of the state's 34 senatorial districts plus 15 at-large delegates.

Although voters would cast ballots for the senatorial district delegates, from a practical standpoint they would be chosen by the local Democratic and Republican party committees, each of which would be allowed one delegate per district.

At-large delegates would have to submit to the secretary of state nominating petitions containing a number of signatures equaling at least 5 percent of the legal voters in their home senatorial district. The top 15 vote-getters statewide would become delegates.

Within six months of the delegate election, the 83 delegates would convene the convention in the Capitol.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Matt Blunt said the potential cost of a convention to state taxpayers is unknown. The delegates would receive $10 per day in compensation plus reimbursement for travel expenses. They would be authorized to hire employees and appropriate funds for any expenditures.

There would be no deadline by which the delegates must finish drafting a new constitution or adjourn. The delegates could also simply offer amendments to the current documents rather than doing a complete rewrite.

If a majority of delegates agreed to a proposed constitution or amendments, another election would be held 60 days to six months after the convention adjourned asking Missouri voters if the changes should be adopted. If approved, the new state charter or amendments would take effect 30 days after the election.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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