Gov. Mike Parson avoided becoming only the third governor in 160 years to have a veto overturned by a legislature controlled by his own party on Wednesday, when the Missouri Senate refused to take up four vetoes that the House voted to override earlier in the day.
Parson, a Republican, had been working furiously behind the scenes to avoid any overrides, fearing the optics of being rebuked by a General Assembly where the GOP holds two-thirds of the seats.
In the end, his efforts to avoid any overrides were successful. But bad blood over at least one of the vetoes could spill over into the 2019 legislative session.
The most contentious veto debated on Wednesday eliminated roughly $154,000 that funded 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.
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Called the Time Critical Diagnosis program, the $154,000 funds a system that 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.
Parson’s veto of the program’s funding sparked backlash from the state’s medical community, which feared the governor was undercutting a program credited with improving patient care.
In response to the criticism, Parson’s department of health and senior services announced that despite the veto it would continue to fund the program by shifting money into it from other portions of the budget.
House Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, argued that plan would be unconstitutional. A state agency, he said, can’t 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, hospital inspections that were canceled because of the veto were rescheduled and state employees were assigned to administer the program.
“We have three branches of government, separation of powers and an appropriations process for a reason,” Fitzpatrick said Wednesday.
The House voted to override Parson’s veto 134-13 on Wednesday.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Dan Brown, R-Rolla, said he does not share the concerns about how Parson’s administration is continuing to fund the program. He argued that the department of health and senior services has flexibility in its budget that allows it to use funds from another section to keep the program running without interruption.
Brown declined Wednesday to bring up any of the governor’s budget vetoes for a vote in the Senate, saying that instead the vetoed funding would be addressed when lawmakers craft a supplemental budget beginning in January.
Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County, questioned why it was wise to wait until January to put the money back in these programs instead of doing so immediately by voting to override Parson’s vetoes.
“I’m not sure I understand,” Schupp said. “What are we waiting for, and what will be different in January?”
Other vetoes that the House voted to override on Wednesday but were not taken up by the Senate:
▪ $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.
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.
There were no veto overrides in Missouri from 1856 through 1975. Since 1976 there have been 103, with all but two taking place since Republicans began their current run in control of both legislative chambers in 2003.
The last time a party that controlled the legislature voted to override the veto of a governor of the same party was in 1999, when Democrat Mel Carnahan saw a Democratic-controlled General Assembly override his veto of a bill banning a certain type of late-term abortion procedure.