The showdown between Missouri's Democratic Governor and the Republican-led General Assembly finally arrives this week, as lawmakers return to Jefferson City for their annual veto session. Governor Jay Nixon struck down 29 bills this year, with most of the post-veto attention falling on two bills in particular, a controversial tax cut proposal and an even more controversial attempt to nullify federal gun control laws.
Campaign to prevent House Bill 253 override attempt
Governor Nixon has spent the summer campaigning against House Bill 253, which would cut state income tax rates for individuals and corporations. Supporters say it'll enable Missouri to compete with neighboring states that have also cut taxes, primarily Kansas and Oklahoma. But Nixon vetoed the bill on June 5th, and one week later kicked off his anti-override campaign before a group of Higher Education officials in Jefferson City.
"All that we have achieved, and all that we can achieve, is now in peril," Nixon said. "With a price tag of $800 million a year, House Bill 253, which I vetoed, represents the great single threat to public education that I’ve seen in my career."
The Governor would take that same message to cities and towns all across Missouri over the next three months, telling people that the tax cut would drain funding from education, children with autism, the poor, the disabled and the elderly, as well as threaten the state's AAA credit rating. Nixon also harped on language in the bill he says would eliminate tax exemptions for prescription drugs and college textbooks. The anti-253 campaign appears to be working. In late July, House Speaker Tim Jones, a Republican from Eureka, admitted that he doesn't think he'll have the two-thirds margin needed for an override.
"The number sort of fluctuates every day," Jones said. "Somebody says 'well, I don't know,' or 'yes I am'…unless those individuals and others who have concerns can look me in the eye and say, 'Mr. Speaker, I'm going to vote for the override,' then there is no reason for me to bring it up, because I don't think there'll be a single Democratic vote for the override."
The most recent count shows around a half-dozen Republicans saying they won't vote for an override of House Bill 253.
Gun control nullification override attempt
Meanwhile, many observers say the so-called Second Amendment Preservation Act has a better chance of being passed than the tax cut bill. House Bill 436 would declare any federal gun control law that violates Missourians' Second Amendment right to be "null and void." During debates back in April, the sponsor, State Representative Doug Funderburk, a Republican from St. Charles, said the bill is not about guns, but about restoring a proper relationship between federal and state governments.
"This bill removes the noose the federal government has been gradually putting around the necks of its citizens and pulling it tighter, and tighter, and tighter," Funderburk said.
But the Governor and Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, are both opposing it, saying it would open up police departments to lawsuits from anyone arrested under the proposed law. And last week, police officials across the state chimed in, including St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch.
"Local police catch over 70 percent of all the bank robberies in this country," Fitch said. "If we make a traffic stop, and a guy's leaving a bank after a bank robbery, and we arrest him and he's got a firearm and we turn him over to the FBI, we have just violated this new state law, should it pass."
The police chiefs of St. Louis city and Kansas City have also condemned the bill, along with the state's Police Chiefs and Sheriffs' associations.
David Robertson is a political science professor at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. He says their voices may have turned the tide in the battle over federal gun control nullification in Missouri.
"Two weeks ago, I would have said that this had not just the best chance of being overridden, but it was likely to be overridden," Robertson said. "Concerns about law enforcement may have introduced some wavering among legislators who might have thought (that) this bill wouldn't have had much impact."
Majority Floor Leader John Diehl, a Republican from Town and Country, last month said that he thinks the House will take up anywhere from five to seven bills for override. They include the anti-gun control measure and a bill that would remove the names of people from the state's online sex offender registry, if their crimes were committed while they were juveniles.
The veto session is set for Wednesday at high noon, and it could last more than one day, depending on the number of overrides lawmakers decide to attempt.