On the trail: Veto-proof majority puts Nixon, lawmakers in new territory | St. Louis Public Radio

On the trail: Veto-proof majority puts Nixon, lawmakers in new territory

May 20, 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: When state Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick tweeted earlier this month that this year’s veto session would be “interesting,” he may have made the understatement of the year.

The Shell Knob Republican’s quip was a more than tacit acknowledgement that the Missouri General Assembly sent numerous bills to Gov. Jay Nixon that might not meet his favor, including legislation restricting deduction of union dues to a broad-based tax cut.

Nixon himself hinted last Friday that legislators may have plenty to do when they come back to Jefferson City later this year.

"My sense is the constitutional necessity of coming back in September will be one that will have some things on the docket for the legislature other than the social activities that occur around the veto session," Nixon said.

While the governor has commonly vetoed bills from the GOP-controlled legislature since he took office in 2009, this year may provide a test of how much weight his objections hold. That’s because for the first time since he became governor, Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in both chambers.

When lawmakers return in September for their veto session, they may have some big decisions on what to override. GOP lawmakers will have to weigh a bill’s importance with the likelihood of overriding a bill. (At least 23 senators and 109 representatives are necessary to overturn Nixon’s veto.) Last year, for instance, Republicans skipped a veto override on vehicle tax legislation.

Below are five bills that Nixon may veto – along with the likelihood of that legislation being overriden.

Tax cuts

The bill by state Rep. T.J. Berry, R-Kearney, and state Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, would cut the state's personal income, business and corporate taxes over a period of time. It also has "triggers" to delay cuts in tax rates if general revenue doesn't go up by a certain amount. 

Proponents say that the bill would make easier for Missouri to compete with other states – like Kansas or Oklahoma – that have aggressively cut taxes. But opponents contend that the legislation will reduce funding for vital state services – and may not do much to reward people to stay.

Chances that Nixon will veto – very high:  At a press conference this month, Nixon said he had “serious concerns” about the legislation. He added, “Now is the time to strengthen our state's foundation of fiscal discipline, not undermine it with reckless Washington-style gimmicks."

Chances that the bill would get overridden – unclear: The bill passed with 24 votes in the Missouri Senate — enough to override Nixon’s veto. But with only 103 lawmakers voting for the measure in the Missouri House, it fell short of the 109 votes needed to override.

But nine state representatives – including seven Republicans – didn’t vote on the bill. One lawmaker who didn't vote was state Rep. Jason Smith, a Salem Republican who might be in Congress by the time of the veto session.

It also remains to be seen if three Democrats – state Reps. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie, and Ed Schieffer, D-Troy – vote to override. Hodges is running against Smith for the 8th District congressional seat, while Roorda and Schieffer are seeking state Senate seats next year.

Automatic deduction of union dues

State Sen. Dan Brown's legislation would require public-employee unions to get approval of members annually before dues could be automatically deducted. Separate approval would be needed for any union political contributions.

The bill – called “paycheck protection” by proponents and “paycheck deception” by adversaries – is strongly opposed by the state’s labor unions. But business groups, such as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, say Brown’s bill “doesn’t keep an employee from making a contribution, but it gives that employee the choice.”

Chances that Nixon vetoes the bill – very high: Nixon is politically close to labor unions and is unlikely to sign legislation they adamantly oppose. Even Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said that "I would guess that the paycheck protection bill will be something he's not going to sign."

Chances that the legislature would override his veto – low: Brown’s bill managed to get the support of the Senate’s 24 Republicans, even a few – including Schmitt, R-Glendale, Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, and Ryan Silvey, R-Clay County – who received the AFL-CIO’s endorsement last year.

But the bill’s passage in the House by an 85-69 margin is well below the two-thirds threshold. Many Republicans who voted against Brown’s bill received labor support last year. And those lawmakers may not be inclined to arouse the ire of a group that supported them.

Foreclosure mediation

Legislation from state Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, and House Majority Leader John Diehl, R-Town and Country, effectively abolishes foreclosure mediation ordinances in St. Louis and St. Louis County. It would also prevent other jurisdictions from setting up similar programs. 

Supporters say the city and county ordinances add another layer of regulation and cost for banks and could hurt the real estate market. But advocates say the process could keep distressed homeowners from losing their homes – or catch mistakes in Missouri's traditionally quick foreclosure process.

Chances that Nixon vetoes the bill – unclear: Some Democratic senators told the Beacon that they decided not to filibuster the bill because of signals that Nixon would veto. But Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, indicated this week that the legislation’s large margin of passage may compel Nixon to approve.

Chances that the veto would be overridden – high: The bill passed 130-24 in the House and 26-7 in the Missouri Senate – way above the threshold needed to override a veto. The tally in the House included roughly two dozen Democrats, including House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis.

But there are two wrinkles. The first is whether Republicans will choose to override a bill seen as favorable to banks and Realtors. The second is whether Democratic senators will filibuster this time around, as was promised by Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, earlier this month.

While Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, said last Friday it was too early to talk about the Senate Democrats' veto session strategy, she did say "we're 10 individuals -- and no one ever knows from day-to-day what each of us is going to do on any topic."

Abortion drug RU-486

This legislation sponsored by state Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, would require a doctor to be present when somebody takes RU-486, a drug that induces abortion. Lawmakers in the General Assembly regularly try to pass legislation restricting abortion.

Supporters contended that RU-486 is dangerous and requires constant monitoring. Critics, who say that the drug is safe, said the bill is yet another attempt to restrict a woman’s right to legal abortions.

Chance that Nixon will veto the bill – low: While Nixon supports abortion rights, he sometimes lets anti-abortion bills to go into law without his signature. Republican legislators are universally opposed to abortion rights, while a small bloc of Democrats also votes to restrict the procedure as well. That makes a potential veto difficult to sustain.

Chance that a veto would be overridden – high: Riddle’s bill passed with 23 votes in the Missouri Senate and 115 votes in the Missouri House. The Senate tally would have likely been higher had state Sens. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, and Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, cast a vote.

Gun laws

House Rep. Douglas Funderburk's bill declares that "all past, present, or future federal acts, laws, orders, rules, or regulations that infringe on the people's right to keep and bear arms" are "invalid, will not be recognized, are specifically rejected, and will be considered null and void and of no effect in this state."

Gov. Jay Nixon and Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, were both asked last week about Rep. Douglas Funderburk's gun bill.

The legislation would also allow school districts to designate "school protection officers" who can carry concealed weapons and lowers the conceal and carry age from 21 to 19.

Nieves – who handled the bill in the Senate – called the measure on Twitter “the most hard-core 2nd amendment bill, perhaps in the country.” Others contend that the state law voiding federal laws is unconstitutional.

Chance that the governor will veto the bill – moderately high: Nixon signed bills aimed at bolstering gun rights in the past – including one dropping the conceal and carry age to 21. But it's possible that Funderburk’s bill may go too far for him. After saying “I haven’t even gotten to try to read that yet” at a recent news conference, Nixon said, “It seemed like during the discussion that people were saying extreme things on each side.”

He then said last Friday that "we'll obviously give the bill a very careful review -- and of course that would include the very real legal issues of attempting to nullify federal laws."

Chance that the veto would be overridden – moderately high: While it's possible that Republican leaders may decide not to pursue an override, the bill passed each chamber with veto-proof majorities. And the Missouri legislature has a history of overriding vetoes on gun-related legislation, such as the 2003 vote to legalize conceal and carry in the state.

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.