COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) – Lawmakers in Missouri recently halted attempts to pay for the Medicaid expansion, in what is the latest example of a state house struggling to overturn policies passed by voters .
Critics argued in a controversial state Senate debate on Thursday that voters did not understand the potential cost of the federal health insurance program. Supporters, including Democrats and some Republicans, said lawmakers were going against the will of voters who amended Missouri’s Constitution last year to make thousands of low-income adults eligible for the election. government health insurance.
“People voted for it. We put it in the Missouri Constitution. This is what they voted for, ”said Democratic Senator Jill Schupp. “Now we have people who have taken an oath to uphold the constitutions of the United States and the State of Missouri, and here we are with people turning their backs.”
It’s unclear how the decision will impact access to Medicaid once the new eligibility rules take effect in July. Republican Gov. Mike Parson tweeted Thursday that his administration will weigh its options once the budget is finalized. Lawmakers expect a legal battle.
Missouri is one of 16 states that allow voters to pass policies by putting them on the ballot, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. South Dakota, Utah, Montana, Arizona and Florida are all states where lawmakers have recently sought to undermine measures approved by voters.
Voting against funding for the Medicaid expansion in Missouri, Senate Main Budget Republican Dan Hegeman said, “If voters had had all the information we have, I think they would have taken a different decision. “
Craig Burnett, political scientist and direct democracy expert at Hofstra University, said gaps between the priorities of lawmakers and voters can occur when Democrats are oversaturated in urban areas or due to gerrymandering – when legislative districts are tricked into giving a party an oversized advantage in elections. He said the conflict is particularly acute when it comes to social issues.
“You only get that kind of mismatch when the legislature is significantly out of step with the average voter,” Burnett said.
South Dakota was the first state to adopt direct democracy in 1898. Since then, lawmakers have responded.
Recently, voters legalized medical marijuana, raised the minimum wage, and expanded casino games. The GOP-led legislature responded by trying to make it harder to put initiative petitions on the ballot.
In Montana, voters last year approved a recreational marijuana program that sends a significant chunk of tax revenue for conservation. But a Republican-backed legislative plan instead seeks to invest as much as $ 6 million in a drug treatment program before directing a third of what remains to wildlife habitat, parks and facilities. Hobbies.
After Utah voters passed the Medicaid expansion in 2018, Conservative lawmakers delayed its full implementation before adding work requirements. In Arizona, Republicans are seeking to eliminate about a third of the revenue from a voter-approved tax increase on the wealthy to fund education.
While Florida voters in 2018 overwhelmingly approved a measure allowing most criminals to vote once they have served their sentences, the Republican-led legislature undermined that by forcing them to pay. first the fines and court costs.
Missouri’s fight for Medicaid expansion isn’t the first time the legislature and voters have clashed over the ballot in recent years.
Voters in 2018 repealed a law ending mandatory union dues for non-union members, a long-held goal for Republicans.
That same year – as Republican Josh Hawley defeated former Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and the GOP retained overwhelming control of the legislature – voters legalized medical marijuana, raised the minimum wage, and passed a redistribution measure opposed by the main Republicans.
After the success of the mostly Democrat-backed policies at the polls, Republicans sought to reverse them and make it harder for voters to put questions on the ballot.
Several pending bills would increase the cost of filing N-initiative petitions, force petitioners to go to greater lengths to collect signatures, and increase the voting threshold required to amend the Missouri Constitution.
Burnett said that while recent tensions have mostly involved Republican states and more liberal voters, it has also happened with Democratic-led legislatures. He cited the decision by Californian voters in 2008 to ban same-sex marriage, which was later overturned by the court.
“It’s very frustrating for all those voters who voted for it,” he said. “The purpose of the initiative petition is actually supposed to be to bypass the legislature and enact policies that they don’t want to make, or maybe they are too politically toxic.”
Associated Press editors Amy Beth Hanson in Helena, Mt., and Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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