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Missouri House, Senate Vote To Override Budget Vetoes, Senate Hears About Ferguson

(Updated 8:35 p.m., Wed., Sept. 10)

The Missouri House and Senate have voted overwhelmingly to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s line-item vetoes of more than 50 items in the state's current budget, although both sides agree the overrides may not be enforceable.

The House spent more than six hours dealing with the issues. The Senate swiftly followed suit with a barrage of votes Wednesday night.

However, all sides agree that there are legal questions about the validity of line-item overrides and that the governor can simply turn around and “withhold” the spending – achieving the same goal as a line-item veto.

The state constitution allows the governor to withhold budgeted spending, which can then be restored if state income appears sufficient. Money that is vetoed is removed from the budget and cannot be restored.

State Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood and chairman of the House Budget Committee, earlier had said that the override votes were aimed primarily to show the House’s ire with Nixon’s decision to veto so many spending items – about 160 in all – rather than simply withhold the money.

Several House Democrats who voted for the overrides said their aim was to put the money back in the budget for Nixon to withhold, with the hope that additional state income might allow the spending programs to be restored.

Emotions ran particularly high Wednesday in the House, as leaders in both parties blasted each other's motives.

Missouri House during Wednesday's veto session
Credit Jo Mannies/St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri House during Wednesday's veto session

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, attacked the governor, saying that the line-item vetoes would have been largely unnecessary if Nixon had spent less on his airplane and other administrative expenses. He contended that the governor had been irresponsible and short-changing Missourians who need the services that got vetoed.

State Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, shouted back that "the airplane is a straw man and everyone knows it."  The real problem, he said, that the Republican majority had approved too many tax breaks that unbalanced the budget.

The first House override, by a 138-21 vote, was of Nixon's veto of reimbursements for exams of children who were physically abused.   All told, House GOP leaders hope for a string of overrides Wednesday of the governor’s line-item vetoes, which Nixon said were necessary to balance the state budget for the current fiscal year.

Other overridden vetoes included:

  • A provision to equip all Water Patrol boats with defibrillators, which can be used in cases of cardiac arrest;
  • $900,000 to the Missouri Works job-training program.
  • Various allocations for school programs and health-care services.
  • Restoration of $500,000 for four alternative-to-abortion centers.
  •  Money to create a trade office in Israel.

All told, the overrides amount to roughly $40 million, House leaders say.

Nixon withheld or vetoed about $1.2 billion from the budget approved by the General Assembly last spring for the fiscal year that began July 1. He said he was forced to do so because the budget was out of balance. House leaders disagree.

State Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, repeatedly objected to the House's override votes on the line-item vetoes. He accused his colleagues of "unconstitutional actions."

Although House members initially agreed to limit debate for all the line-item vetoes to four hours, the chamber was still voting on the items as the veto session closed in on its 6th hour.

The House had yet to tackle some of the 33 bills that Nixon also vetoed. Eleven of those bills originated in the House, and any overrides must first be considered in the House.

Votes on vetoed bills delayed

Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, says one of his top priorities is to successfully persuade the House to override Nixon’s veto of a bill to extend the state’s waiting period for abortions to 72 hours. The waiting period now is 24 hours.

Backers say the extension would give women more time to ponder their action. Opponents say the bill is demeaning, especially since it has no exceptions for women who are victims of rape or incest.

While the House debated the budget items, hundreds of backers and opponents of the abortion bill held rallies outside and inside the Capitol.

Senate leaders say they want the veto session to last only one day, in part because one Republican senator will be absent Thursday – denying the GOP a veto-proof majority in that chamber.

House leaders have indicated they are willing to stay in session several days. By law, a veto session cannot last more than 10 days.

Senate kicks off with Ferguson

The Senate, meanwhile, spent much of its first hour in session listening to state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, recount her experiences during August's unrest in Ferguson following a police shooting that killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. She spent more than an hour on the Senate floor detailing the aftermath of Brown's shooting, talking about her own experiences with demonstrators, including getting tear-gassed by police, and blasting Gov. Jay Nixon for his "delayed response" to the unrest.

Chappelle-Nadal repeatedly called Nixon "a coward'' for failing to address the issues confronting African-Americans. She also recalled "crying in my shower because the government that I love so much and dearly  chose to tear gas us for three hours for peacefully demonstrating."

Chappelle-Nadal also briefly asked fellow Sens. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, and Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, whether they wanted to share their comments about Ferguson. Several people who demonstrated in Ferguson were seated in the Senate gallery.  They occasionally broke out in applause, which is against Senate rules. However, Senate President and Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder chose not to gavel them down for their outbursts. 

Later, the Senate voted 26-6 to override the governor's veto of a bill that would exempt electronic cigarettes from the state's cigarette and tobacco taxes. That measure now goes to the House.

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