JEFFERSON CITY — A state trial judge on Tuesday allowed the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Municipal League to join a lawsuit concerning an eminent domain ballot measure. They are seeking to keep the proposed restrictions off the November ballot.
The secretary of state's office last month announced that supporters of two proposed state constitutional amendments to limit the use of eminent domain had not collected enough signatures. The measure's backers have sued to challenge that finding.
Cole County Judge Richard Callahan ruled Tuesday that the Chamber of Commerce, Municipal League and other entities could join the lawsuit as defendants. But Callahan blocked other efforts to intervene in the lawsuit by some who fear the proposed eminent domain restrictions could obstruct efforts to complete a 2,100-mile oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the Midwest.
JoAnn Sandifer, an attorney for the businesses and municipal associations, said her clients are more interested than state and local election authorities in the practical effects of the ballot measure.
"It would have debilitating effects on economic growth and on infrastructure projects," she said of the proposed eminent domain restrictions.
Sandifer said entities such as the Municipal League and Chamber of Commerce also could argue that some of the signatures counted should have been tossed out as invalid.
Ron Calzone, the leader of the group pushing for the eminent domain petitions, said it's more likely for signatures to be wrongly tossed out than improperly counted. But he said having to defend signatures that have already been counted will make it more difficult to succeed in court.
"At the root of this is that if you have enough money and can throw enough money at it, it makes it extremely difficult for a grass-roots effort to prevail," he said.
The ballot proposal seeks to bar the use of eminent domain by nongovernment entities and for private use. It was broken into two separate initiative petitions, but both fell several thousand signatures short of the 28,787 signatures needed in the 2nd Congressional District, which covers Lincoln and parts of St. Charles and St. Louis counties.
Ballot measures changing the state constitution require signatures equal to 8 percent of the votes cast in the 2004 governor election in each of six of Missouri's nine congressional districts. That amounts to between 140,000 and 150,000 signatures.
The underlying lawsuit was filed by Missouri Citizens for Property Rights. It contends that the secretary of state's office wrongly tossed out some signatures because the petition gatherer was believed to have not registered, but had. Attorney Joshua Schindler argued Tuesday that even if the circulators hadn't filed the proper paperwork, the voters who signed the petition did not do anything wrong and should be counted.
"The voters signed this believing their voice would be heard and this would be put on the ballot," Schindler said. "This is a fundamental right that should not be taken from the voters."
Assistant Attorney General John McManus said state law clearly spells out that signatures should be tossed out if they are collected by petition gatherers who have not properly registered.
The lawsuit also argues that other signatures from the 2nd Congressional District weren't counted because the addresses on the petition and the addresses on file with local election authorities didn't perfectly match. Ballot measure supporters contend that the signatures should count if both addresses are within the congressional district.