Sept 17, 2015 – Weekly Capitol Update

HOUSE SUSTAINS VETO ON SO-CALLED ‘RIGHT-TO-WORK’ BILL

A bipartisan coalition led by House Democrats defeated efforts on Sept. 16 to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of controversial legislation that sought to make Missouri a so-called “right-to-work” state. The House of Representatives sustained the veto on a vote of 96-63-1, falling 13 “yes” votes of the 109 needed for an override.

House Bill 116 sought to make it a crime punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a $300 fine for companies to negotiate labor contracts that require employees to pay dues for the union representation they receive. Requiring such “fair share fees” currently is a common practice under labor deals.

Based on the final House vote to send the bill to the governor last May, right-to-work supporters needed 17 lawmakers who originally opposed it to flip their votes in order to achieve the required two-thirds supermajority needed to advance the measure to the Senate . They ended up with a net gain of four, as five lawmakers switched to “yes” and one switched to “no.”

Right-to-work was by far the most contentious issue awaiting lawmakers as they headed into the annual veto session, and large groups on both sides descended on the Capitol for a final round of lobbying. Joining the 42 House Democrats who voted to uphold the governor’s veto were 20 Republicans and the chamber’s lone independent. Voting to override were 95 Republicans and one Democrat.

 

LEGISLATURE OVERRIDES 10 BILLS VETOED BY GOVERNOR

The GOP-controlled General Assembly overrode 10 of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s vetoes on Sept. 16 during its annual veto session. Two of the highest-profile overridden bills, however, appear headed to litigation with uncertain chances of surviving in court.

One of those is House Bill 150, which took an uncharted and constitutionally suspect path to override. The bill cuts the maximum weeks of unemployment benefits in Missouri from 20 weeks to as low as 13 weeks, depending on the statewide unemployment rate. Nixon vetoed the bill in May during the regular legislative session and the House voted to override days later. Because the Senate took no action at that time, Nixon and others maintain the constitutional window for overriding the bill had closed.

In a departure from past practice, however, Senate Republican leaders decided to move ahead on HB 150 during veto session and voted to override on 24-8 straight party-line vote, with Democrats opposed. Since the legislature has never previously attempted an override procedurally straddling two legislative sessions, a court challenge is expected.

Opponents of House Bill 722 are also considering suing to block enforcement after that bill was overridden. The bill prohibits municipalities from enacting ordinances regulating the use of disposable bags by retailers and also bars local laws relating to employment, including the establishment of local minimum wages that exceed the state minimum wage. Because during the legislative process the bill’s title morphed from “relating to the provision of paper and plastic bags” to “relating to prohibited ordinances by political subdivisions,” opponents, including many local officials, argue it violates the state constitutional prohibition against changing bills from their original purpose.

Another significant override came on legislation prohibiting Missouri children who were brought into this country illegally from participating in a state scholarship program. Lawmakers also overruled the governor on a bill that would grant commissioned corporate security officers the same powers as police officers, including the authority to make arrests and conduct searches.

Counting two overrides from the regular session, the legislature overrode Nixon on 12 of the 18 bills he vetoed this year. Nixon has now been overridden on 34 bills and 48 line-item budget vetoes since taking office in 2009.

 

SENATE ELECTS FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER AS NEW LEADER

The Senate on Sept. 16 unanimously elected state Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, as president pro tem, the chamber’s top leadership position. Richard becomes the first person in Missouri history to serve as both Senate president pro tem and speaker of the state House of Representatives, a post he held from 2009 to 2011.

Since January, Richard had served as Senate majority leader, a post that determines what bills the chamber takes up for debate. With his elevation, Senate Republicans selected state Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, as his replacement. While the office of pro tem is elected by the entire Senate, the majority leader is chosen solely by the majority party.

The shuffle in Senate leadership was triggered in August when previous Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Peters, unexpectedly resigned in August to take a job with one of the many political front group funded by retired financier and GOP donor Rex Sinquefield. Dempsey’s departure came just months after the House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town & Country, resigned amid an intern sex scandal. Current House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, replaced him in May.

 

FERGUSON COMMISSION ISSUES BROAD CALLS TO ACTION

The Ferguson Commission on Sept. 14 issued a 198-page report broadly outlining recommendations for systemic changes to combat racial bias, protect the rights of all citizens and promote economic opportunity in the St. Louis region. Gov. Jay Nixon appointed the 16-member commission in November in response to the civil unrest that followed the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen by a white Ferguson police officer the previous summer.

The report includes nearly 200 “calls to action” covering a wide range of subjects. But throughout the report discusses the need to unflinchingly confront racial divisions and work to resolve them.

The commissions’ priorities include various law enforcement reforms, including changes to use-of-force policies and improved police training, along with court reforms to protect the constitutional rights of defendants and address sentencing practices. The report also focuses on the need to put the needs of children at the center of many policy discussions and to make greater efforts to improve educational and economic opportunities in the region.

The full report can be found online at http://www.forwardthroughferguson.org.