Missouri judge rejects challenges to ballot items on transportation, gun rights

Tuesday, July 1, 2014 | 3:40 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri judge rejected legal challenges Tuesday to a pair of proposed constitutional amendments dealing with gun rights and transportation taxes that are to appear on the ballot next month.

In two similar rulings, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem dismissed the lawsuits as moot because less than six weeks remain before the Aug. 5 election. He also upheld the ballot summaries approved by the Republican-led Legislature as sufficient and fair.

An attorney challenging the gun-rights measure said he would appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court.

The plaintiff challenging the transportation tax proposal said she was considering whether to appeal.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment 7 would ask voters whether to impose a three-quarters cent sales tax for transportation projects for the next 10 years. The ballot summary projects that it would raise $534 million annually for state and local governments.

The lawsuit by the Missouri Association for Social Welfare challenged the cost estimate and the description of the measure, claiming among other things that the wording was insufficient because it failed to note that the use tax also would rise.

"The ruling is a total victory over the long-shot attempt by opponents to stop Missourians from having an opportunity to fix their roads and bridges," Bill McKenna, the treasurer for the campaign committee supporting the measure, said in a written statement.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment 5 would ask voters whether to enhance the right to keep and bear arms in the Missouri Constitution. It says the measure would declare the right "unalienable" and require state government to uphold that right.

The measure was challenged by prosecutors from St. Louis and Kansas City, the St. Louis police chief and a gun-control activist. They contended the ballot summary was insufficient for failing to mention other significant changes, including that gun-control measures would become subject to tougher legal scrutiny and that a current constitutional provision allowing restrictions on concealed guns would be repealed.

While rejecting those claims, Beetem also cited a state law that says: "No court shall have the authority to order an individual or issue be placed on the ballot less than six weeks before the date of the election."

The six-week mark, which already has passed, also is when absentee ballots are supposed to be available in Missouri.

Attorney Chuck Hatfield, who represents some of the gun-measure challengers, said he believes that law applies only to ordering a candidate or issue to appear on the ballot, not to removing or ordering a new summary for an item already placed on the ballot.

"It's a completely new issue that I think the Supreme Court needs to enlighten us on," he said.



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