Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Wednesday for yet another showdown with Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. And the Republican super majority expects to make history.
With 110 members in the House and 23 in the Senate, the GOP has the votes to override any of the governor’s vetoes.
That probably means longer wait times before a woman can have an abortion, less-restrictive laws over openly carrying a firearm and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of spending and tax breaks the governor says will bust the budget.
“We’re keeping our strategy pretty close to the vest,” said House Majority Leader John Diehl, a suburban St. Louis Republican set to become speaker of the House in January. “But this certainly has the potential to be an historic session.”
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This will be the second straight year in which a veto session has marked a defining battle between the governor and the Republican-dominated legislature.
Last year, lawmakers voted to override the governor 10 times. There had been only eight previous overrides since 1976.
This year, with the governor rejecting 33 bills and more than 130 sections of the budget, the record could once again be shattered.
Despite massive Republican legislative majorities, though, Nixon still expects to score a few significant victories.
The governor’s top priority is the budget. Lawmakers built the state’s $26 billion budget on the assumption that tax revenues would continue to grow. Instead they have declined. Nixon contends that overriding his vetoes and re-instituting $145 million in spending will put Missouri on a “permanent path to living beyond our means.”
Nixon’s vetoes span the budget, ranging from increases in payments for mental health care providers to utility bill subsidies for low-income residents. The governor said many of those items are worthwhile, but the state currently can’t afford them. He also pointed to items included in the budget that he deemed unnecessary, such as $500,000 to try to control invasive Asian carp.
“We don’t have the money for all this stuff,” Nixon said.
The governor is also trying to defend his vetoes of bills offering various tax breaks to businesses, such as electric companies and computer data centers. He said those giveaways would knock the budget further out of balance.
Republicans accuse the governor of misleading the public.
“His numbers are simply wrong,” said Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican and former House budget chairman. “He has a tendency to overplay his hand and say things are worse than they are for political purposes.”
Abortion and guns
While Nixon’s attention has focused on the impending budget battle, vetoes of bills tripling the waiting period to have an abortion and voiding local bans on the open carrying of a firearm are widely considered to be prime targets for an override. When it comes to abortion and guns, Republicans historically can count on Democrats crossing the aisle to support an override.
Republicans are pushing to require women to wait three days after an initial visit with an abortion provider before the procedure can be done. That would triple the current 24-hour waiting period. The GOP fought off attempts earlier this year to include an exception for victims of rape and incest.
“Current law mandates that if you go in for an abortion, you’re given a pretty significant packet of information,” said Silvey, who plans to vote to override the governor’s veto. “All this bill does is say a woman gets an additional 48 hours to digest the information and make an informed decision.”
Nixon called the measure “extreme and disrespectful.” He said it would only “create emotional and financial hardships for women who have undoubtedly already spent considerable time wrestling with perhaps the most difficult decision they may ever have to make.”
Kansas City recently passed a ban on the open carry of firearms. An override would effectively wipe out the ordinance. State lawmakers have framed the issue as a debate over the Second Amendment, arguing cities should not have the authority to limit a constitutionally protected right.
In addition to the open carry provision, the legislation would lower the minimum age required to get a concealed weapons permit to 19 from 21 and allow specially trained teachers to carry concealed guns in public schools.
The governor is also expected to score some victories, chief among them on his veto of a student transfer bill that would allow students to transfer to non-religious private schools with local tax dollars helping pay for tuition.
Although it originally cleared the Senate overwhelmingly, its margin of victory in the House was 20 votes shy of the needed two-thirds override majority.
The bill’s sponsor, Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce of Warrensburg, expects the Senate to vote to override Wednesday to send a message to the governor. But Pearce doubts it will get much traction in the House.
“Picking up 20 votes is a huge hill to climb,” he said.
Another bill facing long odds would rewrite Missouri’s payday loan laws. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Cunningham, told Missouri Digital News he may not even call for a vote to override the governor’s veto. When the bill originally passed the Senate, five Republicans voted against it.
Nixon also hopes to sustain his veto of legislation exempting electronic cigarettes from state tobacco taxes and regulations and banning their sales to minors. Last week he convened a panel of medical professionals to highlight what they described as the dangers of electronic cigarettes.
The bill originally passed with plenty of support for an override, but its sponsor concedes that support has faded a bit.
Override efforts for bills granting tax breaks for certain businesses may also face problems. At least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Jay Barnes of Jefferson City — has said he plans to vote against overrides of all but one.
Veto sessions typically last one day. But with the sheer number of vetoes to be considered, legislative leaders say lawmakers could work through Friday.
Pearce told The Star that he has a family commitment that will force him to leave the Capitol if the session goes longer than one day. Without his vote, Republicans would no longer have a veto-proof majority in the Senate.
The length of the session may come down to how lawmakers handle the governor’s budget vetoes.
The governor believes lawmakers must hold a separate vote on all 130 line-item vetoes. Some Republicans believe they can instead vote on budget bills as a whole, limiting the number of votes to only 13.
“That’s the way we are hoping to proceed,” Silvey said, adding that there is historical precedent backing up the constitutionality of that strategy. Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey has requested a legal opinion on the question from Attorney General Chris Koster.
Nixon, who was attorney general for nearly two decades, said that if the GOP goes that route it will be in violation of the constitution.
“Missourians,” Nixon said, “deserve to see a roll call vote for every one of these folks who wants to invent another program and override me to spend money we don’t have.”
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