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GOP fighting, 50-hour Democratic filibuster kill push to make amending Missouri Constitution harder

The Missouri state Senate convenes on the final day of its annual regular session on Friday, May 17, 2024, in Jefferson City, Mo. The Senate adjourned moments later without doing any work. (AP Photo/David A. Lieb)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — GOP infighting and a record-breaking, 50-hour Democratic filibuster on Friday killed a Republican push to make amending Missouri's constitution harder, an effort in part aimed at thwarting an upcoming ballot measure on abortion-rights.

The GOP-led Senate adjourned Friday morning — nearly eight hours before the 6 p.m. deadline for lawmakers to pass legislation this year — without passing what was a top priority for Republicans this year.

The Senate's early departure came after Democrats spent Monday, Tuesday and half of Wednesday blocking all work in hopes of pushing Republicans to strip a ban on noncitizens voting, which is already illegal in Missouri, from the proposed constitutional amendment.

Democrats argued that Republicans pushed for the provision to persuade voters to support an effort to limit their own power at the polls.

“Republicans wanted to make it harder to amend the constitution,” Senate Democratic Minority Leader John Rizzo told reporters Friday. “We recognize they have a supermajority, but we wouldn’t let them trick people.”

Without the votes to force Senate Democrats to sit down, the Republican bill sponsor on Wednesday ended the filibuster by instead asking the House to pass a version without the noncitizen voting language. The House refused.

House Speaker Dean Plocher in a Friday statement said without the language on noncitizen voting, the measure was “so weak that it would ultimately fail if put on the ballot.”

The House on Friday instead passed another amendment to ban both ranked-choice voting and noncitizen voting. The measure will go before voters this fall.

Republicans also wanted to put the proposed change to the initiative petition process before voters in August, with some hoping that voters would approve the higher threshold for amending the constitution before an expected November vote on abortion rights.

Missouri banned almost all abortions immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022 overturned Roe v. Wade. The pending amendment would enshrine abortion in the constitution and only allow lawmakers to regulate it after viability.

Some Republicans have argued that to block the abortion amendment, it is necessary for voters in August to change the current requirement that a majority of voters statewide approve constitutional amendments.

The GOP wants to make it so amendments need support from a majority of voters in a majority of congressional districts as well. It’s part of an effort to give more weight to voters in rural areas that trend more Republican compared to the state’s big cities.

“Unfortunately, this Republican Party has no backbone to fight for what is right and for life,” said Republican Sen. Rick Brattin, who leads the Freedom Caucus faction in the Senate. “That’s what this fight has been about all along: protecting life.”

Republicans and Democrats have raised doubts about whether courts would apply the new rules somewhat retroactively to November initiative petitions, which were proposed under the current rules.

“The notion that IP reform being on the ballot's the magic bullet to make sure that the abortion IP doesn’t pass is ridiculous,” Senate Republican President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden told reporters Friday.

Long-simmering tensions between the Freedom Caucus — members of which had blocked work for weeks at the start of session to push a vote on the measure more quickly — and Senate leaders complicated the debate.

On Thursday, Freedom Caucus member Sen. Bill Eigel tried to put in the chamber's official record that work on the amendment “was interrupted by a stampeding herd of rhinoceroses running through the Senate chamber, laying waste to the institution.”

Efforts to change the initiative petition process are not all centered on abortion.

Missouri Republicans have been trying for years to put stricter limits on constitutional amendments, arguing that policies such as the legalization of recreational marijuana, approved by voters in 2022, should not be included in the constitution.


Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed to this report.

Summer Ballentine, The Associated Press