This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon followed through Tuesday with an apparent shift in his position on government retention of the public’s personal information, by vetoing a bill that would have mandated a state database – accessible to employers – of all Missourians who file workers’ compensation claims.
“There is a stark contrast between lawmakers’ rhetoric on the issue of privacy and their record,” Nixon said in a strongly worded statement. “While professing to champion privacy rights, this General Assembly quietly passed a bill to create – and allow broad access to – a new electronic database containing the personal information of hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Missourians,” the governor continued. “This misguided legislation would have invaded Missourians’ right to privacy by making their personal information available to employers on a government website without their consent. Invading Missourians’ privacy will not grow our economy or move our state forward.”
According to Nixon’s staff, the governor’s action retains the current law, whereby “workers’ compensation information is available, but only under limited circumstances and subject to strict privacy protections, including requiring the permission of the prospective employee.”
Missouri AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Mike Louis lauded the governor's action. "With his veto pen, Governor Nixon again demonstrates his support for the rights of Missouri workers," Louis said. "The bill would have unfairly given employers online access to personal data of Missouri workers injured on the job. Our state elected officials should work to make workplaces safer not violate privacy rights of hardworking Missourians...."
Meanwhile, the governor's statement jabbing at the General Assembly appeared to refer to his longstanding battle with Republican legislators over a different case of government document-scanning.
Nixon surprises critics in document-scanning battle
The veto comes a day after Nixon had shocked some legislative critics by signing into law a bill (SB252) that bars the state’s Department of Revenue, and its Motor Vehicles Division, from scanning and retaining copies of personal documents – such as birth certificates and passports – used to provide identification so the person can obtain a drivers license.
The bill makes an exception for non-citizens, so that copies of their documents can be retained.
The department has been scanning and retaining copies of such documents for almost a year.
Neither Nixon nor his staff provided an explanation for his decision to sign SB252, which comes after weeks of numerous statements in which he has said that keeping copies of such documents was intended to help prevent fraud and, by extension, thwart terrorism.
The governor’s office also is amid a longstanding standoff with legislators who have for months accused the governor of backing a drivers license process that violates Missourians’ privacy and violates the 2009 law that bars the state from complying with the federal REAL ID law. That law, passed in 2005, attempts to prevent or monitor would-be terrorists who seek to obtain drivers licenses.
Late last week, Nixon’s administration blocked an attempt by House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, and a special committee on which he sits, from subpoenaing Nixon aides to appear before the panel to discuss the document-retention issue. A judge ruled in favor of Nixon and set a hearing late in July to discuss the matter.
Conservative legislators got involved in the issue because of a controversy over the state making copies of concealed-carry permits. Nixon ordered last spring that such scanning should end. The bill he signed, SB252, bars such scanning as well.
Nixon's administration sent out a no-more-scanning directive Monday to the state's roughly 180 privately run fee offices that handle driverse licenses.
Said Jones in a statement: "While the Department (of Revenue) has yet to provide adequate answers regarding why so many Missourians’ private information was put at risk in the first place, their decision to finally put an end to most scanning shows that the legislature’s hard work to protect Missourians’ privacy is having a significant impact."
Jones added, though, he plans to monitor action to "ensure that all information collected up to this point is securely destroyed to avoid future privacy risks. In addition, we must find out who was responsible for the decisions which put this information at risk, and we must hold them accountable. Only by finding the full extent of the problem can we come up with a permanent solution to prevent future privacy violations."
Nixon busy this week with bill-signings, vetoes
The governor signed or vetoed a number of other bills on Tuesday. The list sent out by his office includes:
House Bill 235, "which requires candidates for county treasurer, county collector and county collector-treasurer to provide the election authority with a signed affidavit from a surety company indicating that the candidate meets the minimum bonding requirements for the office."
House Bill 233, "which contains administrative language clarifying the law regarding Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System (MOSERS) and the MoDOT and Patrol Employees’ Retirement System (MPERS)."
House Bill 351, "which requires the Department of Health and Senior Services to review and revise its regulations governing hospital licensure to promote efficiency."
House Bill 215, "which modifies several areas of law regarding the criminal justice system, including strengthening laws related to domestic violence and sexually violent offenses."
Senate Bill 100, "which modifies several areas of law relating to judicial procedures, including streamlining the adoption process."
House Bill 542, an omnibus agriculture bill that "helps Missouri farmers secure loans for livestock and feed by increasing the maximum loan amount a farmer may borrow from $40,000 to $100,000 from a lender and receive a 50 percent guarantee from the Missouri Department of Agriculture through the Livestock Feed and Crop Input Loan Guarantee program. It also includes a provision to help develop Urban Agricultural Zones."
House Bill 329 "would have increased the fees that payday, title and consumer installment lenders can charge consumers. The most impacted consumers would be those seeking short-term loans under $1,500," his statement said.
“Helping payday lenders reap higher profits at the expense of struggling Missourians will not grow our economy or create jobs,” the governor contended.
Senate Bill 9, "which contained a provision that would have eliminated the existing ban on foreign ownership of agricultural land. This provision was inserted as an amendment to the larger bill after it had already been rejected by a legislative committee, and despite opposition from leading agricultural groups," the governor's office said.
Senate Bill 342, which "also would have allowed foreign ownership and would have exempted business entities in Cape Girardeau County from a statewide standard aimed at protecting the health and safety of school children," Nixon said in a statement.
"Current law does not allow the permitting of mining operations within 1,000 feet of any property on which an accredited school has been located for at least five years. Senate Bill 342 would eliminate this protection for school children in Cape Girardeau County and nowhere else."
Senate Bill 170, "which would have repealed existing Missouri law requiring elected officials to be physically present when they cast a vote. The legislation would have instead allowed certain elected officials to vote in public meetings via videoconference without demonstrating good cause for doing so," his statement said.
“Current law already allows elected officials to use technology to participate in meetings, but it also draws the line at casting a vote,” Nixon said. "No technology can or should substitute connecting with people in person.”
Senate Bill 28 and House Bill 611, which would have "unfairly denied Missourians the ability to receive unemployment benefits on the basis of activities occurring outside the workplace and outside of work hours," his statement said.
“What employees do on their own time should not be used as a basis for denying unemployment benefits, except for the narrow circumstances already set forth in law,” Nixon said in his veto message. “These bills also contradict federal law, which could jeopardize the federal tax credits that Missouri employers receive, potentially costing them an estimated $859 million each year."
Business groups upset over two vetoes
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, and the Associated Industries of Missouri, both criticized Nixon's vetoes of SB28 and HB611.
"Both of these bills would have saved Missouri businesses countless dollars and rooted out fraud in the unemployment system," said Daniel Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber. "With one stroke of a pen he has raised taxes on Missouri businesses to the tune of almost $1 billion."
Mehan contended that some of HB611's mandates "were required under the federal Trade Adjustment Extension Act of 2011.“
Mehan and Associated Industries president Ray McCarty called the bill's provisions "common sense changes'' to the state's current unemployment laws.
Among other things, said McCarty, the two bills changed the definition of employee misconduct so that employers no longer would have to prove that the worker "acted intentionally and with substantial disregard of the employer's interests," in order to disqualify them for unemployment benefits.
Nixon's veto means that requirement remains in effect.
Mehan said, "The examples the governor gives for his veto are absolutely ludicrous and make no sense. This is a purely political move.”