JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers on Wednesday returned to work for a session that Republican leaders have said will focus on making it harder to amend Missouri’s Constitution.

GOP lawmakers have been trying for years to crack down on ballot initiatives, which have been used to enact policies that the Republican-led Legislature either avoided dealing with or opposed.

For example, voters in November voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in response to inaction by lawmakers. A 2020 citizen-led ballot initiative forced the state to expand Medicaid coverage, despite years of resistance from Republicans.

Newly elected Senate President Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, told the upper chamber during his speech Wednesday, initiative petition reform will be a priority this session. 

“I have no desire to make it harder for citizens to have their voice heard through the initiative petition process, Rowden said. “I simply and firmly believe that threshold for adding or changing our constitution should be higher than a simple majority.”

Across the building in the House, newly elected House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, told reporters Wednesday afternoon the recent initiative petitions have been pushed by outside interests’ groups. 

“I think much of the constitutional initiative petition is abused by out-of-state money investors where people have no economic tied to Missouri, or they don’t live here, or their families aren’t here,” Plocher said. “I think Missouri voters need to have more transparency about what is being brought to them when they vote for it in the constitution. 

Advocates chose to make changes through constitutional amendments to make it harder for lawmakers to undo voter-approved policies, but that also makes it more difficult to address unforeseen policy issues.

Republican lawmakers now are wrestling over whether to make it more challenging for residents to put policies to a public vote or increase the percentage of votes needed to pass constitutional amendments.

On the other side of the aisle, House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said her caucus would oppose any legislation that would make it harder to put referendums on the ballot. 

“We will absolutely not stand for the voices of Missouri citizens to be disenfranchised and to make it hard for them to participate,” Quade said.”

Another disagreement between the two parties has to do with the state’s multi-billion-dollar surplus. Plocher said he wants to give Missourians their money back through another tax credit. 

“We need to vet legislation that will look to further keep Missourians’ money in their pockets rather than send it to government, Plocher said. “So we are open to many different types of tax cuts or letting Missourians keep their own money.”

Democrats disagree and want to see the $6 billion surplus invested in things like infrastructure, education and early childhood care. 

“We probably have a once in a lifetime opportunity to make real investments in Missouri and Missourians, and of course a tax cut sounds great, but it’s a one-time thing,” Quade said. “What we need to be doing as a legislature is what investments can we make in the long haul when Missouri isn’t in the same financial situation that we are in.”

In the upper chamber, Rowden said education is in the forefront of this session. 

“World class teachers should be paid like world class teachers,” Rowden said. “We’re going to reimagine and lay the groundwork for implementation for a new blueprint for achieving success for our students in education in Missouri.”