Government & Politics

Mo. House overrides Parson veto of money for program helping critically ill patients

Missouri Gov. Parson’s inner circle

Mike Parson's closest advisers includes longtime friends and veterans of state government.
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Mike Parson's closest advisers includes longtime friends and veterans of state government.

Read the full report, updated with the Missouri Senate’s action Wednesday afternoon.

The Missouri House voted Wednesday to override four of Gov. Mike Parson’s vetoes, including one that eliminated funding for a program aimed at ensuring that critically ill patients suffering from trauma, stroke and heart attacks get to hospitals that can treat them most effectively.

The fate of each veto will ultimately be decided in the Missouri Senate, which was expected to begin debate on these issues Wednesday afternoon. All told, the overridden vetoes totaled less than $1 million of the state’s $28 billion budget.

Parson, a Republican, had been working furiously behind the scenes to avoid any overrides in the House, fearing the optics of being rebuked in a legislative chamber where his party controls two-thirds of the seats.

The most high-profile veto overridden by the House, on a 134-13 vote, was $154,000 to fund the Time Critical Diagnosis program.

The program designates hospitals as stroke, heart attack and trauma centers. Those designations are needed because state law requires first responders to transport acute patients to hospitals that have been certified as being able to administer the proper care, rather than simply to the closest facility.

The funding has become a major point of contention between Parson and the House budget committee.

The veto sparked backlash from hospitals, first responders and patient advocates who argued that the governor was undercutting a program that they credit with improving patient care.

If a hospital either loses its certification, or is unable to get certified, because of the lack of funding, “a patient could be forced to travel longer distance for care, and that could have a very detrimental effect,” Rep. David Wood, R- Versailles, said Wednesday.

Parson’s administration responded to the criticism by appearing to backtrack, saying the state department of health and senior services would simply shift money from other portions of the budget to keep the Time Critical Diagnosis program alive.

Lawmakers balked at the suggestion, with House Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, arguing that it would be unconstitutional for a state agency to simply reallocate money that the General Assembly designated for a specific purpose.

Despite Fitzpatrick’s warning that “there will be hell to pay” during next year’s budget if the governor moves forward with the plan to reallocate funds, inspections were rescheduled and staff were assigned to administer the program.

“The problem with that is, we have three branches of government, separation of powers and an appropriations process for a reason,” Fitzpatrick said Wednesday.

Other vetoes that the House voted to override on Wednesday:

$487,000 for juvenile advocacy units in Kansas City and St. Louis.

$100,000 to fund two employees in the Office of Child Advocate, which investigates and acts on complaints regarding agencies responsible for enforcing child welfare laws.

$45,000 in funding for the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Fitzpatrick, while discussing the reasons for overriding Parson’s veto of funding for the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, placed the blame on the quick turnaround between Parson taking office June 1 and taking action on the budget June 29.

“I don’t want this to be seen as something it is not,” Fitzpatrick said of the successful override. “This is just trying to correct a decision that was made without enough information.”

The House also debated overriding Parson’s veto of $50,000 that was targeted to pay for emergency rescue tourniquets for law enforcement agencies across the state. Ultimately the override fell short of the required two-thirds majority, 104-44.

Debate on the budget now heads to the Senate, where there are currently 23 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

It takes 23 votes to override a veto.

Rumors swirled Wednesday that the Senate would simply adjourn without allowing any discussion of possible veto overrides, which would leave the vetoes in place. Rep. Rocky Miller, R- Lake Ozark, said during debate Wednesday that doing that would “short circuit the legislative process” and put the new governor off on the wrong foot with the legislature.

“We cannot,” Miller said, “start messing with the budget system.”

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