WHAT OTHERS SAY: How about voting for a saner ballot process in Missouri?

Monday, July 9, 2012 | 4:17 p.m. CDT

Let’s just say Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan had a tough assignment.

In 50 words or less, she was required to summarize a legislative measure which, if approved by voters, would prevent the governor or anybody in the executive branch from taking any step toward creating a health insurance exchange without the legislature’s consent. The summary is to appear on the statewide ballot in November.

The bill’s Republican sponsors no doubt had in mind a summary like, “Shall Missouri law be amended to make sure we have nothing to do with the socialist takeover of America’s health care system, aka Obamacare, unless we legislators, like Chief Justice John Roberts, lose our minds and agree to it?”

But that’s not what Carnahan, a Democrat, came up with.

Her summary reads: Shall Missouri law be amended to deny individuals, families, and small businesses the ability to access affordable health care plans through a state-based health benefit exchange unless authorized by statute, initiative or referendum or through an exchange operated by the federal government as required by the federal health care act?

A tad political, perhaps. But accurate. In fact, the more we look at Carnahan’s summary, the better we like it.

It neatly sets out the effect of the ballot question on the citizens of Missouri. If they approve the legislature’s statute, they would be denied the benefits of a health insurance exchange unless lawmakers create one or the federal government sets one up.

Regardless, a phalanx of well-paid lawyers is primed to challenge Carnahan’s ballot language. Had the bill’s Republican sponsors written the 50-word summary, as they were entitled to do, their work would likely be questioned in court also.

Some Republicans are also unhappy with the way Carnahan summarized a complex bill that would change the way judges are nominated in Missouri. There’s a good possibility that language could face a legal challenge.

It’s all a part of the maddening game that is cheapening elections in Missouri.

The Republican-controlled state legislature misuses the statewide ballot to try to ram through unnecessary and often foolish measures that would otherwise be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

Groups inside and outside of the state use the initiative petition process to gain attention for their pet issues. Sometimes they have no intention of doing the hard work of gathering enough signatures. But the secretary of state is required to write summary language for dozens of initiatives, and the Missouri auditor is required by state law to assess the financial impact of each initiative.

To complicate matters further, the Missouri Supreme Court is now considering a challenge to the auditor’s authority to write fiscal notes. In their efforts to keep certain initiatives from reaching the ballot, opponents have contended that the estimates are beyond the auditor’s job description.

We hope the high court disagrees with that interpretation. The Missouri Constitution directs the auditor to undertake “all other audits and investigations required by law,” which would seem to include research into the cost of a ballot initiative. It’s important for voters to have some idea of the price tag for what they’ll be voting on, and the auditor is well positioned to provide that.

But the challenge to the auditor’s authority is one more indication that a ballot process designed for the people has been co-opted by interest groups and their hired guns. Instead of adding their own frivolous measures to the mix, Missouri lawmakers should work to restore integrity.

Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.


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