Gov. Jay Nixon’s summer of the veto

07/02/2013 6:23 PM

07/02/2013 6:23 PM

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is on a veto tear.

He announced five vetoes this afternoon, including one of a bill that requires the creation of a database of all Missourians who have filed workers’ compensation claims. Employers and prospective employers could browse the database and presumably blackball workers with a history of claims, whether they are valid or not.

As Nixon notes in his veto statement, the bill not only violates the privacy of workers, it potentially puts employers in violation of federal law. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination in hiring on the basis of a disability. An employer can inquire about a worker’s compensation record, but only after making a conditional job offer.

The governor also vetoed an awful bill that would make Missouri even more appealing to payday loan shops by increasing the fees that they and title and consumer installment lenders can charge consumers.

Another vetoed bill would have allowed elected officials to vote via videoconference. Yet another would have greatly broadened the grounds under which a worker could be denied unemployment benefits.

Yesterday Nixon vetoed the loopy “Agenda 21” bill. For those not familiar with the right-wing underbelly, Agenda 21 is a 20-year-old, non-binding United Nations resolution promoting green space and sustainability. Glenn Beck and others have decided it poses a threat to property rights, so Republican legislatures like Missouri’s are making haste to outlaw its implementation.

Nixon also vetoed a bill yesterday that would reduce penalties for underage gambling. And another bill that would have stopped local governments from restricting celebrations or discussions of federal holidays. This is presumably a pre-emptive strike in the imaginary “war on Christmas.” But as the governor pointed out, it would also interfere with the ability of local governments to set fireworks bans on the Fourth of July and other holidays. Honestly, don’t legislators give any thought to the consequences of the bills they pass?

Nixon’s big veto, and the one that will create a showdown during the legislature’s veto session in September, is of the income-tax cut bill which, as the governor argues convincingly, would decimate the state’s ability to invest in its schools, universities and citizens.

To the surprise of many, Nixon actually signed a bill yesterday that stops the Department of Revenue from scanning original documents, such as birth certificates and passports, of people applying for driver’s licenses. Discovery of the scanning — which saves the state money and helps prevent fraud — got Republicans so riled up during the session they had trouble passing a budget.

Nixon was standing his ground on the controversy until yesterday. Last week he won a court ruling saying members of his administration didn’t have to respond to subpoenas to attend a trumped-up hearing that Republicans conducted.

So why cave now? Missouri’s Democratic governor is nothing if not pragmatic. My guess is he’s saving his firepower to stave off an override of his veto of the income-tax bill. The scanning controversy is a major distraction, so he ended the practice.

Nixon did manage to land a well-placed jab at the GOP obsession about the document scanning when vetoing the bill setting up a worker’s comp claim database.

There is a stark contrast between lawmakers’ rhetoric on the issue of privacy, and their record,” he said. “While professing to champion privacy rights, this General Assembly quietly passed a bill to create — and allow broad access to — a new electronic database containing the personal information of hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Missourians.”

Exactly.

Still to come is a decision on the legislation liberating Missouri from following federal laws that apply to firearms. It’s almost certainly unconstitutional, but that doesn’t make the issue any less tricky for Nixon. The same goes for a bill still out there preventing doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing drugs to patients and monitoring their usage via telemedicine. Nixon has until July 14 to either sign all bills, veto them or allow them to become law without his signature.

The stage is being set for a lively veto session in September. Republicans have a large enough majority to override any or all of the governor’s vetoes if they so choose. But Nixon and his staff are notably astute about parsing legislation and pointing out the flaws and unintended consequences. Some of the governor’s veto messages should prove enlightening for lawmakers. We voted for

that

?

While shrugging off important stuff like tax credit reform for another session, the Missouri legislature busied itself by passing some truly horrible bills. Lawmakers should consider the governor’s vetoes a favor and quietly let them stand.

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