Government & Politics

Gun, voter ID legislation in focus as Missouri veto session nears

The Missouri General Assembly will convene Wednesday to consider overriding some of Gov. Jay Nixon’s vetoes. Nixon already is the most overridden governor in Missouri history.
The Missouri General Assembly will convene Wednesday to consider overriding some of Gov. Jay Nixon’s vetoes. Nixon already is the most overridden governor in Missouri history. The Associated Press

Wednesday will mark the final showdown between Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and Republican legislators, as lawmakers return to the Missouri Capitol to consider overriding the governor’s vetoes.

The marquee fight will come on a bill eliminating training and permit requirements to carry a concealed gun in public and another that mandates that voters show a government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot.

Nixon, a Democrat entering his final three months as governor, faces long odds trying to sway GOP legislators who control two-thirds of the seats in the House and Senate.

Under current Missouri law, gun owners may legally “open carry” a weapon anywhere that does not expressly forbid the practice. Carrying a concealed weapon requires getting a permit by passing a criminal background check and completing a gun safety training class.

On the final day of the 2016 legislative session, lawmakers approved a bill eliminating those requirements and allowing someone to carry a concealed firearm in public without a permit.

Nixon vetoed the bill because he said it would allow “individuals to legally carry a concealed firearm even though they have been or would be denied a permit because their background check revealed criminal offenses or caused the sheriff to believe they posed a danger.”

Proponents have argued that the change is about public safety. The legislation, according to the National Rifle Association, “seeks to expand the fundamental right to self-defense of Missourians and strengthen their ability to protect themselves and their families.”

Joining Nixon in opposing the bill are groups representing law enforcement officers around the state.

Paul Williams, chief of the Springfield Police Department and president of the Missouri Police Chiefs Association, said the current concealed carry law is working well, “so we’re at a loss for why we would want to do away with something that is working.”

He has a concern that doing away with training and permit requirements would put police officers’ lives in danger.

“Someone who would have been prevented from carrying a concealed weapon before, they would be permitted to carry a weapon under this law,” Williams said. “That creates a danger for law enforcement officers when they encounter those individuals on the street.”

The governor also vetoed legislation that would require voters to provide a photo ID to cast a ballot.

The issue has been a Republican priority for more than a decade. They were finally able to overcome Democratic opposition by negotiating a compromise that would still allow Missourians to cast ballots even if they don’t have a government-issued photo ID. Those voters would be required to sign a statement attesting to their identity under penalty of perjury.

Republicans argue the change is needed to protect the voting process from fraud. Under Missouri’s current system, voters can vote by providing a utility bill or bank statement to prove their identity.

“People expect integrity in their elections, and an election does not go by without accusations of some type of election fraud,” said Sen. Will Kraus, a Lee’s Summit Republican, later adding: “Presenting a utility bill as identification is hardly sufficient to prove someone’s identity.”

Democrats counter that there has never been an instance in Missouri of the type of fraud voter ID would prevent; instead, they say, the bill is designed to make it harder for traditionally Democratic voters to cast a ballot.

Although guns and voting are the most high-profile issues lawmakers will consider, Nixon vetoed more than 20 other bills that could also be overridden.

One bill would give agriculture and mining industries more influence over Missouri’s water regulations by altering the makeup of the state’s Clean Water Commission. Nixon vetoed the bill because he said it could result in a commission with no members from the general public, essentially turning control of water quality over to industries that cause water pollution.

Another bill would allow license offices around the state to charge additional fees on customers when they get a new driver’s license or register a vehicle. Nixon said the new fees are unnecessary and won’t result in any new or additional services.

What both those bills have in common is that the provisions that sparked a veto were added late in the legislative session as amendments to unrelated bills.

The clean water commission changes were attached to a bill pertaining to lagoon-based wastewater systems. The license fees were attached to a bill pertaining to county road district consolidation.

“Most of the things I’m talking about were not the primary purpose of the bill as it was filed,” Nixon said. “They were amendments tacked on in the last eight or 10 days, or in the last eight or 10 hours or eight or 10 minutes.”

One of the casualties of Nixon’s vetoes has been a top priority for Kansas City leaders for years: A requirement that limited liability companies in Kansas City that own unoccupied property within the city file an affidavit with the city clerk listing the property manager. City leaders have said the change is needed to improve efforts to fight blighted properties.

The bill passed the Missouri House and a Senate committee, but was never taken up for debate on the Senate floor. So to ensure it got to the governor’s desk, the legislation was attached as an amendment to another bill in the final days of the 2016 session. Nixon ended up vetoing that bill over a provision that was not related to Kansas City LLCs.

Nixon said the bill started off fine but eventually “transformed into an omnibus monstrosity” that ran afoul of the constitutional mandate that bills contain only a single subject matter.

Nixon is already the most overridden governor in Missouri history, thanks in part to Republican super-majorities for much of his final term in office. But when asked about that fact, Nixon bristled.

“If (Republicans) want to add to their statistics by jacking up fees on licenses, they ought to be accounted for it,” he said. “And don’t let them use as an excuse that they’ve got the numbers to do this stuff if it’s bad policy.”