On the Trail: 5 things to look for during this week's veto session | St. Louis Public Radio

On the Trail: 5 things to look for during this week's veto session

Sep 12, 2016

Welcome, one and all, to the fifth anniversary of this reporter’s “five things to look for veto session” stories. Plenty of things happened since the first iteration of this listicle hit the World Wide Web: Donald Trump became a serious presidential contender, Macklemore curiously won a bunch of Grammys, and “five things to look for” stories gradually aroused the ire of cranky tricenarians living in St. Charles County. 

But after a one-year hiatus, this trusted journomeme is back and better than ever to size up the legislative veto session. Wednesday’s gathering features two particularly noteworthy bills: One would make it easier to conceal and carry a firearm. The other implements a photo identification requirement to vote. (The latter bill will only go into effect if voters approve a constitutional amendment authorizing a photo ID requirement.)

As Gov. Jay Nixon mentioned to the press last week, those two measures aren’t the only bills up for an override this week. With that backdrop in mind, here the five big questions that I’m asking in the run up to veto session:

Is 114 enough?

One reason veto sessions during the Jay Nixon era have been reasonably suspenseful is that Republicans typically didn’t have a sturdy veto-proof majority in the Missouri House. That’s not the case this year: Even with three vacancies, the GOP caucus has 114 members. And that’s more than enough to cross over the 109-vote threshold to override Nixon. 

Missouri Speaker of the House Todd Richardson listens to representatives speak on the last day of the 2016 legislative session.
Credit File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

And the big problem for detractors of the firearms and photo ID bills is that Republicans tend to be fairly united on expanding gun rights and imposing a government-issued photo ID requirement to vote. Without a substantial split in the caucus, it’s hard to see a scenario where there are enough, or any, GOP defections to block those bills in the House. (Though it is possible that opposition from law enforcement groups could make GOP lawmakers think twice on the gun bill.)

Democrats may have better luck on some of the lesser-known bills that Nixon highlighted a news conference last week. For instance, a bill launching a pilot program for automated trucks only received 107 votes. While a number of lawmakers were absent when the measure came up for final passage, it shows that there’s at least a chance for some veto to be sustained.

Will defeated lawmakers show up — or walk out?

One thing that could complicate Republican override efforts is making sure their caucus actually shows up on Wednesday. 

Bonnaye Mims, D-Kansas City, speaks on the last day of the legislative session. Mims lost re-election during the August 2 primary.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

During the Aug. 2 primary, two Republican incumbents — state Reps. Sheila Solon and Nick King — lost their re-election bids. And based from precedent,  Solon and King may not be in the mood to stick with their party.

One particularly memorable example of this occurred in 2012, when a bill aimed at allowing entities to opt out of an insurance mandate for contraception was the veto session’s main event. Then-state Rep. Ward Franz didn’t end up voting on the bill, primarily because he was upset that Missouri Right to Life didn’t endorse him during an unsuccessful state Senate primary. But Franz was definitely in the Capitol that day: He shook my hand while riding in an elevator right before veto session started.  

It should be noted that state Rep. Bonnaye Mims, D-Kansas City, also lost re-election during primary season. But House Democratic votes during veto session will only make a difference if somebody from that caucus decides to override Nixon. 

Will Chris Koster’s words aid Republicans?

Attorney General Chris Koster likes to describe himself as a “conservative Democrat.” And while his adversaries would likely protest to that characterization, the Democratic gubernatorial has certainly taken policy positions that are against the grain of his party.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster speaks at the Truman Dinner, the Missouri Democratic Party's annual gathering.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

For instance: The NRA-endorsed Koster signaled support for the aforementioned gun bill, which would effectively end the conceal and carry permitting process. And Koster told the Kansas City Star that while he opposes photo ID requirements in principle, he said the proposal up for an override “the integrity of the right to vote without placing excessive regulations on the voting process.”

(It should be noted that when Koster was a Republican member of the state Senate in 2006, he not only voted for a photo ID bill, he signed a “previous question” motion that killed a Democratic filibuster.)

It’ll be worth watching if Koster’s sentiment toward these bills prompts Democrats to override Nixon. But even if that doesn’t occur, Republicans are almost certainly going to use Koster as a rhetorical foil during debate.

What will Senate Democrats do?

If you flip through the other iterations of “five things to look for during veto session,” the most common query is whether Senate Democrats would try to filibuster certain overrides. It was often the biggest question, since Republicans were often reluctant to use the aforementioned previous question maneuver.

Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, listens as fellow senators thank each other for their work earlier this year. Sifton has emerged as an especially effective filibuster.
Credit File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

But when Republicans ended their nearly seven-year moratorium on using the parliamentary rule in 2014, it greatly weakened the ability of Democrats to stop controversial bills. So it stands to reason that if Democrats filibuster on the gun and photo ID bills, Senate Republicans may whip out the previous question motion.

Still, Senate Republicans may shelve less high-profile bills that raise the hackles of Senate Democrats. That may end up being the most effective way for the Senate Democratic super-minority to make its mark.

Will this year’s veto session mark an end of an era?

Once upon a time, Missouri’s veto session was a largely inconsequential day where departing lawmakers provided their farewell remarks. It was a period when the word “MOSTEALA” still meant something and Republicans controlled the executive and legislative branches.

Gov. Jay Nixon holds a press conference in his office following the end of the legislative session in May.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

But when Nixon became governor, he found plenty of policy disagreements with the GOP-controlled legislature. And that led to busier veto sessions, especially as Democratic strongholds in rural Missouri hollowed out and the legislature became more Republicans.

While it’s not a question that can be definitively answered after Wednesday, it’ll be worth watching if veto sessions become less relevant to the Missouri political universe — regardless of who becomes governor. GOP gubernatorial nominee Eric Greitens may sign a lot of bills that Nixon vetoed, such as “right to work” and “paycheck protection.” And while he’ll probably diverge with lawmakers on a multitude of issues, Koster developed a reputation in the Senate of trying to solve difficult legislative problems. And that could forestall some vetoes.

There’s a good way to know whether this veto session will be the last active gathering for a while: If you don’t see a “five things to look for during veto session” column next year, the occasion probably lost some significance. 

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

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum