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Missouri lawmakers target Gov. Jay Nixon’s vetoes on abortion, guns

The Republican-dominated General Assembly voted Wednesday to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s vetoes of legislation tripling the waiting period to have an abortion and voiding Kansas City’s ban on the open carry of a firearm.

They also reinstated more than $50 million in spending by voting to override 47 of the governor’s budget vetoes.

All told, lawmakers managed to override dozens of the governor’s vetoes, many with bipartisan support, and far exceeding previous override records.

The highest profile override came shortly before midnight, when Senate Republicans turned to a rarely-used procedural move to cut off debate and force a vote on a bill requiring women to wait 72-hours after consulting a doctor before having an abortion. The current waiting period is 24 hours. There is no exception for victims of rape or incest.

That would put Missouri’s waiting period second only to South Dakota in length, where the waiting period can extend even longer than 72 hours because it doesn’t count weekends or holidays.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the legislation earlier this year, calling it “extreme and disrespectful” to women because it contains no exception for cases of rape or incest. House Democrats echoed his concerns Wednesday, saying the bill interfered in the medical decisions of women.

“This is designed to demean and shame a woman to get her to change her mind,” said Rep. Judy Morgan, a Kansas City Democrat.

Rep. Kevin Elmer, a Republican from Nixa who sponsored the bill, argued that children conceived in rape or incest deserve protection.

“I value life at all cost,” he said.

Rep. Kathie Conway, a Republican from St. Charles, said the bill would not prevent a woman from having an abortion. It would only ensure the woman have more time to contemplate whether that’s the choice she should make.

Critics of the legislation say the waiting period represents an unconstitutional obstacle for women seeking to have a legal medical procedure. That’s especially true for low-income women, they argue, since the only Missouri facility that performs elective abortions is in St. Louis, meaning travel and hotel costs could prove daunting.

Conway pointed out that abortions are performed just across the Missouri state line in clinics in Overland Park and Granite City, Ill. — 15 minutes from St. Louis.

The 72-hour waiting period would not apply to those clinics.

“If it cannot wait, go across the river where it can happen tomorrow,” Conway said.

Lawmakers also voted to override Nixon’s veto of a bill prohibiting local governments from implementing bans on the open carry of a firearm. The bill also reduces the age requirement for a conceal carry permit to 19 from 21 and allows specially trained teachers to carry concealed guns in public schools.

The legislation faced fierce opposition from Democrats, especially Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, who said that she feared it would hurt Kansas City’s efforts to combat gun violence.

“The reality is in Kansas City and St. Louis we are seeing gun violence that is top in the nation,” said Justus, a Kansas City Democrat. “Adding guns, even to law abiding citizens, for them to openly brandish them in the city that will not help us reduce gun violence.”

Sen. Will Kraus, a Lee’s Summit Republican who sponsored the legislation, said the issue was whether local governments should be allowed to restrict someone’s constitutional rights. The legislation mandates a person have a concealed carry permit in order to legally openly carry, Kraus said. That means they would have to go through gun training needed to get that permit.

“These individuals have been qualified with their weapons, and I believe they should have the right to open carry,” he said. “We want to protect their rights.”

Most of Wednesday was spent focusing on the budget. Lawmakers voted to override 47 of Nixon’s more than 130 line-item budget vetoes, with most with overwhelming bipartisan majorities. In the Senate, only one lawmaker — Democrat Joe Keaveny of St. Louis — voted against the overrides.

Among the spending items reinstated include:

  • $1.4 million for forensic exams for abused children
  • $4 million for utility assistance for low-income Missourians
  • $3.4 million for the Missouri Public Defender Commission
  • $191,400 for newborn screenings

Nixon has argued that while many of the items he vetoed were worthy of funding, the state couldn’t afford them. Republican leaders say the Democratic governor set the wrong priorities with his vetoes.

Despite the legislature’s efforts to override the governor’s budget vetoes, Nixon could still withhold the reinstated funding if he believes state revenues will not be able to cover the expenses. Republican leaders conceded that point but said they went through with the overrides to send the governor a message.

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