JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - People who fraudulently sign petitions for ballot initiatives could face stiffer penalties under legislation passed by the Missouri Senate.
Senators voted 30-3 Thursday for a bill that would make petition signature fraud a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of between $1,000 and $25,000.
Violators currently can face a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The legislation now goes to the House.
The proposed criminal charges also could cover petition circulators who use trickery to obtain signatures or who knowingly submit forms with false signatures.
Charges also could be filed against those who hire petition circulators and should have known that the circulators were committing fraud.
Sponsors of the petitions must gather signatures from registered voters for their proposal to qualify for the ballot.
Under the House legislation, the secretary of state's office would offer a public comment period after a proposal is submitted. For those proposals that actually qualify for the ballot, the Joint Committee on Legislative Research would hold a public hearing.
The bill would also make it a misdemeanor to intimidate or obstruct someone who is trying to sign an initiative petition.
The House approved the measure Thursday on a vote of 151-3. It now moves to the state Senate.