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St. Louis home rule, term limits, power plant reform all pass

November 05, 2002
By: Jason McLure
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri voters Tuesday approved home rule for the city of St. Louis, a revision of term limits for the state legislature, a loosening of restrictions on municipal power plants, but rejected questions proposing arbitration rights for firefighters and a state constitutional convention.

Home rule's passage sets the stage for the St. Louis city government to pull the sheriff, recorder of deeds, license collector, and four other county offices into a single unified local government under the mayor.

Those offices had previously been directly elected and were not reportable to the mayor. Proponents of home rule said the move will streamline local government.

A clause in Missouri's 1876 constitution left the city of St. Louis without the same power to determine its local government as Missouri's other large counties. Passage of this amendment has changed that.

Voters also defeated a proposal that would have given arbitration rights to firefighters. The amendment was put on the ballot by the Missouri Council of Firefighters, a union which represents 5,000 municipal employees statewide. Supporters had argued that giving firefighters and emergency workers the right to arbitration was only fair, since private-sector employees have long enjoyed it.

But Missouri's municipal governments campaigned actively against the amendment, saying it would inevitably lead to higher pay for firefighters. Gary Markenson, director of the Missouri Municipal League, said passage of Amendment two would have put local governments in a bind.

"It's really, when you think about it, the worst of both worlds," he said. "You can't raise taxes without a vote of the people, and outside arbitrators can come in and spend your money."

Missourians approved a change in the state's term limits definition by a narrow margin. The new language will not count partial terms shorter than half the normal duration towards calculations of term limits.

Previously, state senators and representatives who served as little as one day of a term would have had the entire term count against them in term limit calculations. Members of Missouri's assembly are limited to eight years in office in each house.

Missourians backed an amendment to allow towns to band together to build joint municipal power plants without regulation from the Public Service Commission. This clears the way for towns to build larger, more efficient power plants.

Opposition from private utilities such as AmerenUE had prevented this reform from occurring earlier. AmerenUE recently dropped its opposition to the new law.

Municipal power plants produce just 13 percent of the state's electricity.

The amendment's backers, including Columbia city officials, said its passage will lead to lower electricity rates. More local power production would cut the state's dependence on expensive out-of-state power during peak hours.

Missourians overwhelmingly voted not to hold a constitutional convention. Missouri law requires the state to pose that question to voters every 20 years. The last convention was held in Missouri in 1942 and yielded the document that still forms the basis of state law.

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