Gov. Jay Nixon, women and public safety are big losers in Missouri veto session

Missouri Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal blasted Gov. Jay Nixon on the Senate floor.
Missouri Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal blasted Gov. Jay Nixon on the Senate floor. The Associated Press

The Missouri General Assembly’s veto session ended badly for women, for public safety and for Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

Republican leaders in the Senate employed a rarely used parliamentary tactic to shut down debate and force a successful override vote on Nixon’s veto of an onerous bill that will make women wait 72 hours from the time they consult a doctor until they can obtain an abortion. The law makes no exception for victims of rape and incest. It is heartless and punitive.

While limiting the ability of women to obtain legal abortions, the heavily Republican legislature irresponsibly expanded gun access. Lawmakers overrode Nixon’s veto of a bill that allows people with concealed carry permits to display those weapons openly.

Leaders in Kansas City and St. Louis had asked legislators to sustain the veto, correctly arguing that guns are too prevalent in the state’s urban areas as it is. The legislature’s override reveals its willful disconnect with Missouri’s two largest cities.

The gun bill also lowers the age for obtaining a concealed carry permit from 21 to 19, and enables school districts to designate teachers and staffers to be armed “protection officers.” Neither move is good for public safety.

Another regrettable override will allow tobacco companies to sell electronic cigarettes without the higher taxes and regulations attached to nicotine products. Backers had used a sham argument about the urgency of banning sales of e-cigarettes to minors, which is included in the legislation. But the federal government is getting ready to do that anyway. The purpose of this new law is to give tobacco companies a free pass.

All told, the legislature overrode 57 vetoes, the most in Missouri’s history. But things could have been worse.

Nixon prevailed on most of his vetoes of the “Friday favors,” bills passed in the last day of the regular session giving millions of dollars of tax breaks to a range of groups. They were reckless and would have resulted in a permanent drain on state revenues.

In one show of good sense, an attempt to resurrect an agricultural bill that included a serious threat to the state’s deer population failed by one vote.

And the House showed no interest in reconsidering an education bill that was intended to fix the problematic transfer law but created new problems.

Still, the legislature bloodied Nixon by overriding scores of his line-item budget vetoes, with Democrats joining Republicans in the insurgency.

The governor had criticized the legislature’s budget for spending too much, positioning himself as the fiscal conservative in the room. Lawmakers turned the tables, blasting Nixon for cutting money from social service programs while leaving his own travel and office expenses intact.

For Republicans to portray themselves as champions of children and the poor is outrageous, given their insistence on giving money away to special interests. But Nixon had placed himself in in perilous spot.

The governor’s rift with members of his own party was on full display. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democratic senator, ripped Nixon on the Senate floor for his handling of the trouble in Ferguson, Mo. “You are a coward, governor, to let the state of emergency for black people go on,” she said. “You’ve done nothing for black people.”

No one spoke up publicly in Nixon’s defense.

Nixon has done little to help elect Democrats to the legislature or cultivate relationships with lawmakers of either party, so some of his problems are of his own making. But without someone putting the brakes on a legislature shamelessly beholden to special interests, Missouri is in deep trouble.