Amending the state constitution would require approval by a two-thirds majority of voters, up from the current 60 percent, under a proposed ballot question approved by a House committee Monday.
The Republican-supported measure comes the year after a petition initiative was approved that restores the voting rights of most ex-felons who have completed their sentences and as petitions are being circulated seeking to raise the state's minimum wage and ban assault rifles.
The bill passed on a 15-6 vote, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. Republican Rep. Rick Roth said his proposal would protect the constitution from special-interest groups that spend millions of dollars on petition drives to get proposals on the ballot. If approved by the full House and Senate, the proposal would be placed on the 2020 ballot. That measure would require approval by 60 percent of the voters.
"This is the best way to protect our constitution because many times the people that are funding these projects are not local citizens, they're people from out of state," Roth said.
Roth cited a 2002 amendment that banned putting pregnant pigs in cages so small that they couldn't turn around in them. But there are problems with that example. The pregnant pig amendment passed with 54.8 percent of the vote. It and other citizens initiatives, including class size limits also approved in 2002, inspired Republicans to place a measure on the 2006 ballot asking voters to raise the threshold to pass amendments from a simple one-vote majority to 60 percent. It passed with 57.8 percent of the vote.
Democrats argued against the bill, saying voters turn to petition initiatives when the Legislature fails to act on its priorities. Rep. Margaret Good said Republicans have used gerrymandering to build an overwhelming majority in a state that's otherwise politically closely divided, and now that they dominate the Legislature, they don't listen to voters.
"This is, right now, the only answer citizens have to this very, very broken process," Good said. She said requiring a two-third majority of voters to approve amendments "is quashing the voice of the voters and the citizens of this state."
But Roth pointed out that his proposal would also make it more difficult for the majority party in the Legislature to change the constitution because the higher limits also apply to ballot questions approved by lawmakers.
"It also restricts the Legislature. It restricts everybody," he said. "It restricts the ability of the majority party. That's why this is such good legislation."
Roth's bill has one more committee stop before reaching the full floor. A Senate companion bill has two more committee stops.