The initiative and referendum procedure has been a part of Missouri’s constitution and the political process in our state since about 1910. We are one of twenty-four states that allow its citizens to initiate legislation through the petition process. This legislation can either be a state statute or a constitutional amendment. In addition, Missouri’s General Assembly can place measures on the ballot as legislatively referred constitutional amendments or legislatively referred state statutes. Missouri law has a single subject rule for all ballot measures and limits the number of sections of the constitution that any amendment may revise. No measure can be permitted for unconstitutional purposes, and any initiative that is placed before voters must also specify a funding source to cover expenditures the measure may mandate.
Of the nine constitutional amendments that have gone or will be going before voters this year, eight were legislatively referred, and only one was a petition initiative. That initiative was recently certified by the Secretary of State to appear on the November 4th ballot and is an amendment to Article IX, relating to teacher performance evaluations. It will appear as Constitutional Amendment #3 and deals with teacher tenure, a hotly contested topic across our nation. In November, Missouri voters will be given an opportunity to decide the issue for themselves.
So far, Constitutional Amendment #3 is shaping up to be the most controversial of all the measures voters will have put before them. The proposed amendment seeks to weaken and ultimately eliminate teacher tenure laws and tie teacher evaluation to students’ performance. If would give individual school districts and their boards more control over teacher evaluation, as well as teacher contracts.
Supporters of Amendment #3 maintain that teacher tenure keeps poor teachers in place and that individual school districts are lacking in the ability to hire, evaluate and terminate teachers. They also say that the proposed amendment, called “Teach Great,” will give more authority to school boards and will put better teachers in the classrooms.
Those in opposition to this amendment maintain it would open the door to unfair teacher terminations and would create additional standardized tests, with funding being tied to test scores. They claim that when students’ test scores are a major part of the decision about whether a teacher will keep his or her job, more class time will be spent by teachers teaching to the test and not to the individual student’s needs. Most groups associated with education say that this amendment is just an attempt to dismantle public education. It appears there could be some major battles on the horizon related to the proposal.
Three other constitutional amendments that will appear on the fall ballot are legislatively referred amendments. They are as follows:
-HJR16, which was passed by the General Assembly in 2013, proposes amending the Missouri Constitution to allow relevant evidence of prior criminal acts to be admissible in prosecutions for crimes of a sexual nature involving a victim under the age of 18. It will appear on the November ballot as Constitutional Amendment #2.
-HJR72 was passed by the General Assembly in 2014 and seeks to amend the Missouri Constitution to include language relating to a governor’s fiscal management authority. This will appear as Constitutional Amendment #10.
-HJR90 was also passed by the General Assembly in 2014 and proposes amending the Missouri Constitution to permit voting by person or by mail for a period of six business days prior to and including the Wednesday before Election Day in all general elections. This will appear as Constitutional Amendment #6.
All of the proposed amendments will be discussed in greater depth as we get closer to November 4th. However, it is not too early to begin researching these measures and asking for answers to any questions you may have.