Blunt chooses extra session for flawed laws

Friday, July 15, 2005

Governor vetoes bills on lobbyist disclosure.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- When Missouri governors are presented with bills that on the whole they want to sign but which contain serious flaws, they frequently exercise their veto power and call on the legislature to pass clean versions the following year.

Gov. Matt Blunt is taking a different approach.

By the time he finished acting on bills passed this spring, Blunt signed into law several he admits have problems. His solution, though, is for lawmakers to quickly enact fixes in a special legislative session to be called in September.

Blunt said it is simpler for lawmakers to repeal or repair flawed provisions signed into law than to veto entire bills and start from scratch to enact the desired portions.

Excluding partial vetoes in the state budget, Blunt spiked just two bills this year and signed 194. His rejection of companion bills to reduce disclosure and reporting requirements for registered lobbyists and candidates for elected office came on Thursday's constitutional deadline for action.

"Missouri citizens have a right to know who hires lobbyists and what legislation those lobbyists are working for or against," Blunt said. "These bills would have been a step backwards in disclosure and ethics laws."

Both bills passed each legislative chamber with support well in excess of the two-thirds majorities needed for a veto override. Given that Blunt is a Republican and his party controls the General Assembly, however, override attempts aren't expected.

Blunt's veto total is by far the lowest in several years. Considering his party's lock on state government, few were expected.

Several high-profile vetoes by Blunt's Democratic predecessor notwithstanding, vetoes generally result from technical errors in legislation rather than policy disagreements between the governor and lawmakers.

Special sessions usually cost taxpayers about $100,000 a week. Minutes after the regular session ended in May, Blunt announced a special session would be held to pass a bill restricting abortion services, a bill that derailed this spring. As a result, expanding the call shouldn't entail any additional cost since the legislature will already be meeting.

State Rep. Terry Swinger, D-Caruthersville, said he supports the expanded special session so long as it doesn't enlarge to include issues that can wait until January.

"If indeed there are things we need to address, I think we should," Swinger said. "But I'd hate to see it turn into a quagmire with the cost to taxpayers."

One topic added to the special session is the repeal of a provision barring courts and state or local governments from posting personal information about government officials on the Internet without written permission. Critics complained it would shield from public view basic information about regular citizens, such as property ownership or criminal and civil court records, if it involved a public official.

Blunt said he signed the overall bill, which was sponsored by state Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, because it contained several important changes to judicial procedures.

"There are a number of good provisions in this bill ... ," Blunt said. "It is much easier to fix this one section than it would be to go back and pass again all of those other provisions."

Although the bill takes effect Aug. 28, Blunt said it shouldn't prompt government agencies to change their Web sites because it contains no penalty for failure to comply.

Aligning conflicting language related to tougher laws to combat drunken driving and underage drinking in four bills Blunt signed will also be part of the special session. Blunt said the problems with the legislation shouldn't cause trouble for law enforcement or prosecutors during the weeks between when the bills take effect and when lawmakers fix them.

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