Chapter 2: The Missouri Constitution

The United States has its own federal constitution and its own federal system of government. But each state within the United States, like Missouri, has its own Constitution and laws, and rules for its government.

Missouri became a state in 1821. Missouri has had four constitutions in its history. A constitution makes rules for government. The most recent Missouri Constitution was created in 1945 and the rules from that constitution still apply today.

Missouri’s Constitution splits Missouri’s government into three branches: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial.

The Legislative Branch

The Legislative Branch in Missouri is called the “General Assembly,” and is split into the the Senate and the House of Representatives. Missourians choose their representatives and senators by voting for them in elections. Senators keep their jobs for four years and then they have to run for reelection. There are 34 people in the Senate.

Representatives get to keep their jobs for two years and then they have to run for reelection. There are 163 people in the House of Representatives. The people in the Senate and House of Representatives write Missouri’s laws.

Fun Fact: Several Senators in Missouri held a 39-hour filibuster in 2016.

There are many differences between the House and Senate. For example, a bill proposing spending money must be introduced in the House of Representatives first. The Senate has a special rule that allows senators to debate a bill for an unlimited amount of time. Read more below to learn about the process of writing and passing laws is discussed below.

The Executive Branch

Missouri’s Executive Branch is run by the Governor, who is elected by Missouri voters. The Governor signs bills into law and then makes sure the rules in those laws are followed. The Governor gets to keep his or her job for four years and then has to run again.

The Judicial Branch

Missouri’s Judicial Branch is made up of judges.  The judges serve on different courts, like the Supreme Court of Missouri, Missouri Courts of Appeals, and Circuit Courts. A judge’s job is to say what the constitution and laws mean.

Classroom Activity: Who is your state representative?  Who is your state senator?  Who is the governor?  Who are the Circuit Court judges in your county?

The Bill of Rights

Missouri Constitution’s also has a Bill of Rights.  The Bill of Rights gives the people of Missouri important freedoms.  For example, the Bill of Rights protects the right to speak and the right to practice religion. The Bill of Rights also protects other things like a person’s right to own a gun and right to farm.

Classroom Activity: Read Article IX, Section 1 of the Missouri Constitution and discuss the importance of public education.

Amending the Constitution

The Missouri Constitution also has rules about how the Missouri Constitution can be changed.  The General Assembly or the people of Missouri can suggest a change to the Missouri Constitution.

For the General Assembly to suggest a change, more than half of the senators and half of the representatives need to support a change to the Missouri Constitution before the people can vote for it.  The Missouri Constitution can then be changed if more than half of the voters agree to the change.

If a person wants to change the Missouri Constitution, he or she has to get enough voters to support it. The change, or amendment, is then voted on by all the voters of Missouri. The Missouri Constitution is changed if more than half of the voters agree to it.

Making and passing laws

The laws of Missouri can be written by senators, representatives, and even Missouri citizens. The first step to making a law is writing what is called a “bill.”  A senator or representative can write a bill he or she wants to be a law.  A smaller group of senators or representatives called a “committee” then looks over the bill and talks about it. The committee holds a meeting where citizens and experts can talk more about the bill.  If enough committee members support the bill, the whole house or senate then talks about the bill and votes on it.

If more than half of the Senate or House supports the bill, the bill then goes to the other side of the General Assembly. For example, if more than half of the Senate supports the bill, then the bill goes to the House. If more than half of that side of the General Assembly supports the bill, the bill goes to the Governor.

Fun Fact: Missouri citizens can propose and pass laws too.

The Governor can sign the bill into law, or veto it.  A veto means that the Governor thinks the bill should not be a law.  If the Governor vetoes the bill, the bill can still become a law if two out of three senators and representatives support the bill.

Classroom Activity: Debate a proposed bill for your classroom: “All students must play basketball during recess.”  Choose students to support the bill and students to oppose it and have a “debate” followed by a vote.

If a Missouri citizen want to pass a bill, five percent of Missouri’s voters have to sign a piece of paper called a “petition” showing their support for it.  If enough people sign the petition, all Missouri voters vote and decide if that bill should be a law.

by Clayton Thompson

Paid for by the Missouri Bar, Mischa Buford Epps, Executive Director PO Box 119, Jefferson City, MO 65102