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Tax-cut bill fails in Missouri House; Senate kills bill nullifying federal gun laws

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 11, 2013 - The Missouri House has killed the tax-cut bill that had been the marquee legislative issue this year, falling 15 votes short of the number needed after it had been vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon.

But it fell to the state Senate to kill – by one vote – HB436, the bill that sought to nullify federal gun laws. The measure also would have barred publication of the name of any gun owner and, according to law enforcement groups, would have prevented any joint state-federal task forces on law enforcement issues.

The bill had passed the House by 109 votes, the exact number needed to override.

In the Senate, Republican leaders Tom Dempsey and Ron Richard joined the Democrats to keep the gun bill from passing. The Senate vote was 22-12. Backers needed 23 votes.

The duo issued a joint statement later in which both emphasized that they were strong supporters of gun rights, but saw too many problems with the bill. "My love of the Second Amendment does not trump my love for the First," Dempsey wrote.

Senate handler Brian Nieves, R-Washington, appeared to have known early on during the debate that his bill was doomed, repeatedly telling his colleagues that he "would be back" next session with a similar bill.

Nieves devoted most of his remarks to attacking Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who he called "dishonest" because of Koster's letter last week raising legal concerns about a number of the bill's provisions.

Minutes before ending the veto session, the House narrowly killed two other Nieves-sponsored bills: one dubbed the "Sharia law'' bill (SB267) because it barred any court ruling based on a foreign law, and the other (SB265) which barred any state and local agencies from partnering with "any organization accredited and enlisted by the United Nations to assist in the implementation of Agenda 21."

But the Senate joined the House in overriding Nixon's veto of HB650, also known as the "Doe Run bill," which would limit damages for injured miners. The Doe Run Co., which conducts lead mining in Jefferson County, was dueling with the Missouri Trial Lawyers Association. Both sides appeared to have hired every lobbyist in town.

The House vote in favor of an override was 110-50. The Senate vote was 26-8. Those seeking an override said it would protect hundreds of good-paying jobs, while opponents said the effort would wrongly inject legislators in a corporate legal fight and hurt injured workers.

Governor, House speaker spar after tax-cut vote

The tax-cut bill died by a House vote of 94-67 in favor of the override, and came after more than an hour of heated debate in which backers said the tax cuts would grow the state’s economy, and opponents asserted it would devastate public education and other state-funded services.

The House failure to override meant that the state Senate wouldn’t vote on the measure.

The vote was a victory for Nixon, who later told reporters that he expected to swiftly release most of the $400 million in budgeted spending – some for education – that he had withheld until it was clear that the tax-cut bill was dead.

(Update) Indeed, he followed up just hours after the session ended. A press release said, "The released funding includes $66.4 million for K-12 education, $33.7 million for higher education, $23.1 million for services provided by the Department of Mental Health and $11.3 million for programs at the University of Missouri and Missouri State University to train more health care professionals in southwest Missouri."(end update)

Tax-cut backers had been blasting Nixon for weeks over the withholding, which he had said represented a portion of the budget cuts that might be required if the tax-cut bill became law. House Speaker Tim Jones, among others, had accused the governor of playing politics.

In any case, Nixon praised the House's action to kill the bill.

"I applaud the legislators from both parties who came together to sustain my veto of this fiscally irresponsible bill, which would have defunded our schools and weakened our economy," he said. "Today’s vote represents a defining moment for our state and a victory for all Missourians.”

Two major business groups supporting the bill — Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Missouri — announced within minutes after the vote that they would press for a new version of the tax cut bill in the next session, which begins in January.

The spirited House debate on the tax cut bill featured sharp exchanges with Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Kansas City, asserted that it wasn’t fair that he — as a businessman — could form a limited liability corporation that, under the bill, would see its tax rate slashed in half. An engineer or fast-food worker, he said, would pay the full tax rate.

Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, was among several supporters who contended that the broader issue was the need to reduce business taxes in a bid to attract more jobs to the state.

Nixon told reporters said that he wanted any tax-cut bill to be "targeted" to create jobs and carefully thought out. "We're not going to do tax policy on the back of a cocktail napkin," he said.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, replied by challenging Nixon to call a special session to deal with issues in some of the vetoed bills.

"If he truly believes these pieces of legislation are flawed, we can immediately be called into a special session where we can quickly and efficiently fix any problems that may exist with a minimal cost to taxpayers,” Jones said.

“However, the truth is that the governor has engaged in a campaign of half-truths and false logic with no basis in reality, and when push comes to shove he will reveal that when he refuses to call us into session to correct issues that truly are non-existent. It is time for him to admit his vetoes were political in nature and not at all in the best interest of the Missouri citizens he was elected to serve.”

Modern record set for overriding vetoes

Overall, the House and Senate did appear to set a modern veto-session record in overriding a governor, with 10 overrides. ( Officials don't count the 1800s because only a simple majority was needed, prompting more veto overrides.)

"We just made history today,'' said House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, in a brief news conference after the House adjourned shortly after midnight. He called Nixon "the most overriden state Gov in Mo history." 

But Nixon played down the significance, because his side prevailed on most of what he viewed as the biggest bills, with the exception of the Doe Run bill. "I don't look at this as some sort of scoreboard,'' the governor said, repeating his assertion that "this isn't junior high."

Aside from the Doe Run bill, the successful House/ Senate overrides included:

HB278, which bars any governmental entity from "banning or restricting the practice, mention, celebration, or discussion of any federal holiday.” Opponents contended the wording would prevent local governments from taking such actions as the 2012 cancellation of July 4 fireworks celebrations because of the drought.

• HB329, which increases some fees that creditors can charge consumers.

HB339,  which prevents uninsured motorists from collecting non-economic damages in an accident from insured drivers, even if the latter was at fault.

• HB1035, which makes a number of changes to laws governing political subdivisions, and would allow a municipality to annex land without obtaining approval of the residents residing on that parcel.

• SB9, which eliminates the state's current ban on foreign ownership of farmland, and allows a certain amount of foreign ownership, with approval of the state Department of Agriculture.

• SB110, which changes the procedures for foster parents to provide fingerprints to state agencies, and also affects procedures involving custody and visitation for custodians in the military.

• SB129, which allows licensed health-care professionals to provide volunteer services for a sponsoring organization without liability concerns.

• SB170, which allows local governmental bodies to conduct votes via video-conferencing.

The tenth veto was earlier Wednesday, when the two chambers overrode Nixon's line-item budget veto in HB19 to take away a $1 million appropriation for reconstruction of the Pike-Lincoln Technical Center.

Whether the decision has any impact remains to be seen, since Nixon could simply withhold the funds from the state budget.

However, by two votes, the House killed another vetoed bill – HB611 – that would have made it more difficult for workers who lose their jobs to get unemployment compensation. The Missouri Chamber blasted that decision, saying it would lead to higher unemployment insurance premiums for employers.

Tensions high during House vote on guns

On the gun bill, HB436, the House vote of 109-49 came as a result of three Democrats joining most of the chamber's Republicans in favor of the override. Sponsor Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters, contended the measure was in response to "tyranny and an out-of-control government."

State Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, led the opposition, calling the bill "a recipe of disaster for unintended consequences."

"A pedophile will be protected from having his name published," she said, if that person also is a gun owner.

Funderburk said opponents were exaggerating the bill's problems, and that it was directed only at "unconstitutional gun laws," and not those approved by the courts.

At his news conference, Nixon reaffirmed that he viewed the bill as "unconstitutional, unsafe and unnecessary."

After the Senate vote killing the bill, Nixon said, "As a gun owner and supporter of the Second Amendment, I applaud the bipartisan vote in the Senate to sustain my veto of this unnecessary, unconstitutional and unsafe nullification bill."

Hundreds attended a morning rally outside the Capitol in favor of the gun bill, and many attendees roamed the Capitol's halls collaring legislators.

At the behest of Nieves, R-Washington, the crowd en masse turned toward the state Supreme Court building, which also houses the office of Attorney General Chris Koster, and loudly shouted, "Boo!"

The crowd was protesting Koster's legal opinion that the gun bill was poorly written and could do damage to the state's crime-fighting efforts. Backers of the bill — who are packing the halls, sporting pro-Second Amendment — disagree.

The veto session attracted an unusual amount of media attention, with the New York Times and Al Jazeera among those with reporters allegedly roaming the halls.

Senate overrides series of bills, but need House action

Within minutes after going into session, the Missouri Senate quickly got caught up in debate over SB29, a bill that would have required public-employee unions to obtain annual approval from employees before fees could be automatically deducted from their paychecks. Unions representing police and firefighters are exempt.

By a vote of 22-11, the Senate fell a vote short of the number needed to override — thus killing the bill’s chances. It didn't get a House vote.

The Senate did, however, override the governor's veto of SB28, which alters the circumstances where people can be denied unemployment benefits. They also overrode by a 24-10 margin SB34, which would require the Division of Workers' Compensation to develop and maintain a database of workers' compensation claims. However, those bills later died in the House.

Other successful Senate overrides, which then died in the House, included:

SB265:  Nieves' bill prohibits state or local jurisdictions from "implementing any policy recommendations that infringe on private property rights without due process" and is traceable to the United Nations, among other things. Nieves' bill also bars any state and local agencies from partnering with "any organization accredited and enlisted by the United Nations to assist in the implementation of Agenda 21."

SB267: Nieves' legislation that stipulates any judicial ruling isn't enforceable if it's based on a foreign law that "is repugnant or inconsistent with the Missouri and United States constitutions."

During debate over SB267, Nieves, R-Washington, once again strongly disputed critics' assertions that his legislation was aimed at combating Islamic Sharia law. He also hit back at Nixon’s assertion that the bill's provisions would make it harder for American families to adopt children overseas.

“This bill is not about Sharia law, just like the speed limit is not about any particular type of car,” Nieves said. “It’s just the law.”

Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, said that Nieves’ bill sent a bad message to attract international trade.

“I feel like when we pass a piece of legislation like this, it sends that message that say, ‘You know what, we’re not comfortable with the increasingly small size of our planet,’” Justus said.

Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton added, “This bill sends the wrong message about Missouri’s place in the global economy.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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