Bills proposing to change Clean Missouri, regulate kratom, will receive vote

JEFFERSON CITY — Legislation revising the “Clean Missouri” amendment and regulating a controversial substance that can be used as an intoxicant was approved by a House committee Monday.

Members of the House General Laws Committee voted along party lines to send what is effectively a redaction of a portion of the Clean Missouri amendment to the full House for a vote. Approval by the legislature would send a revised version of the original Clean Missouri amendment back to voters. The amendment — instituted after it was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2018 — made a number of changes to state law.

Proponents of the amendment — largely Democrats in the legislature — argue the bill served to limit the influence of lobbyists and make the drawing of legislative districts less partisan, which it did by limiting lobbyist gifts and giving redistricting responsibility to a state demographer. They also say it is unfair to put the same amendment up to voters a second time, particularly after it received 62% of the vote.

Those supporting a new vote on the amendment don’t see a problem.

“If the Clean Missouri concept was so good and passed before so overwhelmingly, then the logic should dictate that if the voters like what they voted on the first time, they’ll vote this one down,” said Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport.

GOP lawmakers making the push to put the changes back on the ballot in November argue the amendment was too complicated and voters didn’t understand many of the issues at hand, particularly related to redistricting.

The new bill brings the lobbyist gift limit from $5 to zero while leveling campaign contributions across both houses by lowering the amount receivable by state senators. They have made clear, though, that undoing the redistricting changes is the real priority.

“I think that the voters decided that based on the totality of the proposal that they were for it, obviously,” said Rep. Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, who backs the legislation. “But if they were presented with a proposal with a different formulation, I think they might like it even better.”

Clean Missouri took the redistricting process out of the hands of elected officials and gave the responsibility to a state demographer, a nonpartisan position vetted by the state auditor, currently Nicole Galloway, a Democrat.

The issue is particularly contentious as redistricting takes place every 10 years with the census, and this will be the last opportunity to put the issue on the ballot before the process takes place.

Republicans assert that while the demographer position is supposed to be nonpartisan, it will end up becoming a partisan position because it is appointed by an elected official.

“They’re spreading a falsehood, and they know it,” said Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis.

“The reality is that just like the current state demographer, and other similar positions, this position is vetted as applicants go through the auditor’s office. That simply means the auditor’s job is to confirm all applicants are qualified for the job. All of those applications get passed to the Senate, which actually appoints the position,” he said.

He went on to note that the Senate has accepted for review six of the seven applicants for the position that Galloway has confirmed; the one rejected applicant was turned down because of inadequate qualifications rather than a partisan view.

The committee also agreed unanimously to send a bill called “The Kratom Consumer Protection Act” to the House floor.

The bill would set up regulations for the substance kratom, an extract from a tree in Southeast Asia that can be turned into a number of consumable products that at least somewhat replicate the effects of opiates. The FDA does not recognize kratom as a controlled substance, but this proposed act would demand kratom products be labeled accurately and not include substances that could interact with kratom’s effects. It would also prohibit the purchase of kratom to minors younger than 18.

Kratom is a controversial substance that has gained popularity in the United States recently. Some feel it is a useful tool for those trying to escape opioid addiction, while others say it can be used to get high. The substance is outlawed in several states, but the federal government has yet to take action on it.

“I have heard from people all over the state, really, who said that consumption of this substance was something that had really helped them, had helped break their addiction to opioid drugs, had helped relieve mild pain that they had, and there were a lot of local governments that were considering banning this substance,” said Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, sponsor of the bill.

He noted that St. Charles County has passed a resolution similar to his own but that county regulation wasn’t the most efficient way to create a better system.

“I think instead of having a patchwork regulatory structure across the state that we should have uniform rules about the consumption of this substance, and that’s best done through the state legislatures.”

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