WHAT OTHERS SAY: Rush to amend the Constitution weakens state government

Wednesday, February 5, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST

Stop the madness.

Efforts to change the Missouri Constitution — through initiative petitions and legislation — are growing exponentially.

Secretary of State Jason Kander’s website lists more than 50 initiative petitions for constitutional amendments approved for circulation in Missouri.

In some cases, multiple petitions deal with a single topic. For example, three separate petitions deal with early voting, four relate to eminent domain and more than 20 with marijuana production, sale and distribution.

Efforts to change the state Constitution, however, are coming not only from interest groups proposing initiatives; state lawmakers also using the legislative process to put constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Already, two proposed constitutional amendments initiated by lawmakers are scheduled to appear on the Nov. 4 election ballot. One would establish a constitutional right to farm; another would allow relevant evidence of past crimes to be used as evidence in cases of sex crimes involving children under age 18.

There is an effort in the legislature to elevate hunting and fishing to a constitutional right.

We have argued repeatedly that a Constitution is a framework for government, not a document to be altered in cavalier or willy-nilly fashion.

In one of the few areas where Missouri can take a lesson from the federal government, the U.S. Constitution — including its 27 amendments — spans 16 pages in a volume issued by the Secretary of State. In the same volume, the Missouri Constitution, which amends provisions within the document, spans 125 pages.

Missouri lawmakers have no one to blame but themselves for the explosion of constitutional amendments. Our readers may recall Proposition B, an animal welfare law approved by voters but changed drastically by lawmakers before it became effective.

Therein lies a critical difference between state legislation and the state Constitution. The legislature has the power to make, repeal and alter laws; a vote of the people is required to change the Constitution.

Consequently, legislators, interest groups and the people know the way to prevent legislative tampering is to enshrine action in the Constitution.

The irony is every constitutional alteration weakens the legislative process.

Continuing on this path increasingly will transfer power from elected representatives to the people. Although this may seem like an improvement, consider the drawbacks: increased frequency of elections, repeated barrages of well-financed campaigns to sway voters and decisions made by a minority of voters if historically low turnout persists.

If we continue on this inane path of continually amending the Constitution, representative government eventually will become superfluous.

Copyright Jefferson City News Tribune. Reprinted with permission.

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