Showdown over Gov. Jay Nixon’s vetoes set to begin in Jefferson City

09/10/2013 11:22 PM

09/10/2013 11:22 PM

It all comes down to a showdown at high noon.

A summer of political barbs fired back and forth between Republican lawmakers and the Democratic governor draws to a dramatic conclusion today, when lawmakers return to the state Capitol at noon to consider whether to override any of Gov. Jay Nixon’s vetoes. And the agenda is very much up in the air.

Republicans have long viewed the governor’s veto of a bill aimed at criminalizing the enforcement of federal gun laws as a sure target for override. It passed with bipartisan support, and even Democrats who think it is unconstitutional said in recent months they would support an override to avoid being painted as “anti-gun.”

In the last week, the momentum quickly shifted.

Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat who earned the National Rifle Association’s endorsement for his re-election last year, wrote a letter to lawmakers saying the bill could prevent police from cooperating with federal authorities and allow criminals to sue police and prosecutors for referring gun cases to federal officials.

The Missouri Fraternal Order of Police criticized the bill as having “chilling effects on the ability of local and state law enforcement officers to keep themselves and Missouri communities safe,” and the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association said the bill violates a sheriff’s oath of office.

Then on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard became the highest ranking legislator to publicly oppose it. The Joplin Republican called the bill unconstitutional because it relies on the theory of nullification, the notion that states can unilaterally void federal laws they disagree with.

“Nullification is OK to make a statement, but if you are going to put it in law, it sends a signal that maybe you haven’t read the Constitution, especially our amateur constitutional scholars,” Richard said in

an interview with the Columbia Daily Tribune

.

House Speaker Tim Jones, a Eureka Republican, questioned the rationale behind the recent flood of criticism of the gun nullification bill.

“I feel that it is proper to question the motives of people bringing up concerns at the 11th hour,” Jones said in an interview with The Star last week. “Why didn’t they step forward during the five months of the session, when bills are vetted and re-vetted?”

Jones, an attorney, said he doesn’t think the bill would affect the ability of police to enforce the laws and keep the public safe.

The gun bill was just one of the governor’s 33 vetoes this year, and none garnered more attention than an estimated $800 million tax cut proposal.

Republicans argued the bill would aid businesses and help Missouri compete with states such as Kansas that have enacted big tax cuts. But Nixon warned that the tax cuts could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars and reduce funding for education, mental health care and other services.

Nixon spent the summer barnstorming around the state to rally opponents of the bill, supported by a coalition led by education groups representing teachers and school boards.

Republican supporters of the bill knew they faced an uphill struggle from the beginning, and in recent weeks that assessment was reinforced as a handful of GOP lawmakers said they would join with Democrats to support the governor’s veto.

Even if Republicans come up empty handed on guns and taxes, there’s no shortage of potential targets for an override.

“Our intention is to bring up as many bills that we think we can override as possible,” Jones said. “When we meet as a caucus, we’re going to have a discussion about all of the bills in question.”

A successful override requires two-thirds majorities in both legislative chambers — 109 votes in the House and 23 votes in the Senate.

Republicans currently hold 109 seats in the House and 24 in the Senate.

Among the vetoes that could get a vote this week are bills that would limit foreign laws from being used in Missouri courts and that would ban policies based on the United Nations’ Agenda 21 agreement on sustainable development. Another vetoed bill would bar public entities from restricting celebrations of holidays in an attempt to preserve traditional Christmas and Thanksgiving programs.

Another potential override target is a bill that would limit punitive damages related to liability lawsuits pending against Doe Run Co., a lead mining facility in eastern Missouri. Nixon said the bill violated the state constitution by retroactively limiting damages and by benefiting only certain legal defendants. Doe Run — which employs about 1,600 people in Missouri — has warned that the pending lawsuits could put the company out of business.

An effort to override the governor’s veto of a bill easing the state’s sex offender laws ran into trouble last week when

The Associated Press revealed that two political donors were largely behind the push for the legislation.

With so many bills in play, Jones said he thinks that by week’s end, the General Assembly will have overridden a historic number of the governor’s vetoes.

His prediction could prove accurate. Veto overrides traditionally have been relatively rare occurrences.

There have been only 24 veto overrides in the state’s history, and 16 of those occurred from 1820 to 1855, when only a simple majority was required. For the next 120 years, there were no overrides. Since 1976, there have been eight, including five since 2003.

During Nixon’s five years in office, the Republican-controlled General Assembly has been able to override two of his vetoes — a congressional redistricting bill in 2011 and a 2012 bill allowing employers and insurance companies to refuse to provide contraception under employee health plans.

Regardless of the outcome of this week’s veto session, Jones said many of the issues will be back on the legislative agenda when lawmakers return to Jefferson City in January.

“We’re talking about core principles of the Republican Party — tax reform, regulatory reform, litigation reform,” Jones said. “So I feel that whatever happens during the veto session, there will be more work to do in those areas next year.”

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