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Proposed constitutional amendments subject of debate at forum

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 10:57 p.m. CDT; updated 11:09 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 24, 2014

COLUMBIA — An amendment to explicitly enshrine farmers' and ranchers' rights in the state constitution and a temporary sales tax to fund transportation projects dominated the discussion at a Thursday night forum at the Columbia Public Library.

The League of Women Voters of Columbia-Boone County hosted the forum to debate the five state constitutional amendments on the Aug. 5 ballot. David Lile, a radio host at KRFU-AM, moderated the assembly and handled audience questions.

Amendment 1: Farmers' and ranchers' rights

Amendment 1 includes language designed to guarantee owners of Missouri farms the right to practice farming and ranching as they see fit.

Supporters of the amendment believe it would protects farmers' rights from government overreach and litigation by environmental-and animal-rights activists. Opponents think the amendment is unnecessary and its language is too vague.

Columbia attorney Brent Haden spoke in favor of the amendment for Missouri Farmers Care. He said the amendment was necessary to protect farmers from "new and burdensome regulations."

Rhonda Perry, who identified herself as a fifth-generation Missouri farmer, disagreed.

"We don't need special constitutional protection from our neighbors," she said.

Audience members gave multiple rounds of applause for Perry's comments, while some murmured disapprovingly when Haden was presenting his case. One question from an audience member was, "Why do corporations stomp all over family farms?"

Amendment 5: To define the right to bear arms as "inalienable"

This amendment would redefine a citizen's right to keep and bear firearms as "inalienable." Opponents of the bill have said the rights in question are already protected by the Second Amendment and that the bill adds unnecessary clutter to the state constitution.

Jim Hill, a firearms instructor at Target Masters, voiced his support of changing the language of the constitution.

Hill said he interpreted the word "inalienable" as "god-given." He thought the addition of that word to the state constitution would give him more protection from any possible future legislation that would restrict firearm possession.

Scott Wilson, a Columbia attorney at Hines Law Firm, said he was against the amendment. He said the term "inalienable" was undefined and that adding the "strict scrutiny" requirement in the amendment "essentially places guns above women."

Amendment 7: Transportation sales tax

Amendment 7 would add a three-quarter-cent sales tax to fund transportation improvement projects statewide. The tax would be in effect for 10 years and would generate about $540 million in additional revenue annually, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Former state representative Jewell Patek of Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs spoke in favor of enacting the amendment. He said the revenue from the sales tax would increase driver safety by adding features such as rumble strips to more of the state's roads and would go toward repairing "bad roads and bridges."

Terry Ganey, an author and journalist who lives in Columbia, spoke against the bill on behalf of Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions. He said the trucking industry would be given a pass while poor "urbanites," the elderly and those who don't drive would be treated unfairly.

"Poor people in the city are going to pay this tax and truckers are not," Ganey said. "No bucks for big trucks."

 Amendment 8: Veterans Lottery Ticket

This amendment would create a new "Veterans Lottery Ticket," the purpose of which would be to increase state funding for veterans' housing needs by increasing revenue for the Veterans Commission Capital Improvement Trust Fund. The precise amount of money that the new scratch-off ticket would create is unknown.

Lile presented supporting and opposing viewpoints drawn up by the league: "Proponents say that the lottery would help fund the state's seven veterans homes, which have 1,800 on the waiting list ... Opponents say that they are concerned that this new lottery will take away ticket sales from the Education Lottery."

Amendment 9: Electronic communications security

Sean Grove  spoke in favor of the bill while standing in for Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, who had previously expressed his support for the bill. Amendment 9 specifies an extension of existing protections against unlawful searches and seizures to include electronic communications and data.

There were no guests present to speak against Amendment 9. Lile, reading the dissenting opinion provided by the league, quizzed Grove about unintended consequences that might result from the passage of the bill.

"A lot of the unintended consequences that were discussed had to do with law enforcement," Grove said. He said passing the bill would save people time, money and legal trouble.

Voters will be able to cast ballots at polling stations on Aug. 5.

Supervising editor is Landon Woodroof.


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