Editorials

More harmful initiatives than good ones on Missouri’s Nov. 4 ballot

Missouri voters will see a total of four constitutional amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Missouri voters will see a total of four constitutional amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot. The Kansas City Star

Missouri is home to feuding leaders and a multimillionaire retiree with a keen desire to reshape education and tax policies. Voters will be confronted with those dynamics on Nov. 4 when they consider four ballot questions.

One is an audacious attempt to sabotage efforts to bring meaningful early voting to Missouri. We will outline the problems with Constitutional Amendment 6 in this space on Sunday.

Here are our recommendations on the remaining issues:

▪ Constitutional Amendment 2 is a reasonable and necessary measure to help sexually abused children and put dangerous offenders behind bars. The Star recommends voting YES.

Unlike the federal government and nearly all other states, Missouri does not allow juries to learn that a defendant in a child sexual abuse case may have been accused of similar crimes in the past. That restriction places a heavy burden on young victims to convince a jury that abuse has taken place.

The amendment would require prosecutors to seek a judge’s permission to admit evidence of prior relevant criminal acts, even if a defendant had not been charged.

Normally we would consider that unfairly prejudicial. But states have different standards for child sexual abuse prosecutions for good reasons: The crimes are nearly always committed in secret, and young victims often don’t report abuse until long after physical evidence has disappeared. Also, past victims who have been afraid to speak up often come forward once a prosecution gets underway.

Enabling judges to consider admitting relevant evidence of past criminal acts could result in guilty pleas and spare young children the trauma of having to testify in court. It would stop sexual predators from harming other children. The new standard would apply in cases where the victim is younger than 18.

▪ Constitutional Amendment 3 was placed on the ballot by a group funded by Rex Sinquefield, the wealthy retired St. Louis investment banker. It would require the state’s public schools to evaluate teacher performance with a system that relies heavily on high-stakes student achievement tests.

The change would be costly and drain classrooms of creativity and local accountability. Voters should say NO.

Teach Great, the Sinquefield-backed group that orchestrated the petition drive to put the amendment on the ballot, has announced it would cease campaigning for the measure, saying the timing wasn’t right.

The proposal had met with opposition from groups representing teachers, school boards and superintendents, among others.

Amendment 3 would require schools to use the test-based evaluation system to determine whether teachers keep their jobs, get promoted or receive raises. It would limit teacher contracts to three years or fewer and prevent teachers’ unions from negotiating any aspect of the evaluation system.

The measure is similar to legislation being pushed in multiple states by conservative groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council. Conservative Republican lawmakers have tried to get a version of it passed in the General Assembly for several years. When they failed, Sinquefield turned to the ballot.

Voters should support the educators by resoundingly defeating this measure. In its attempt to cripple teachers’ unions, the proposed amendment deals a blow to good education and local control of public schools.

▪ Constitutional Amendment 10 is the result of a long-standing dispute between lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon over the state budget. It would make it harder for Nixon — and future governors —to withhold funding and alter the budget once the legislature has voted on it.

Lawmakers of both parties have good reason to be frustrated by Nixon’s handling of the budget. He has too often dismantled the legislature’s work to advance his own priorities and political agenda.

But making a governor’s ability to hold back spending contingent on legislative approval carries its own risks. Future legislatures could prevent a governor from dealing with a genuine revenue shortfall. Voters should say NO.

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