Decision time for Holden on 99 bills

Wednesday, July 9, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- With a constitutional deadline just five days away, Gov. Bob Holden and his staff face the daunting task of deciding the final fate of 99 pieces of legislation lawmakers passed this year.

The Republican-controlled legislature passed 254 bills during the regular legislative session that ended in May. So far, Holden, a Democrat, has signed 148 bills into law and vetoed seven.

The vetoes included budget bills that Holden eventually signed following a monthlong special legislative session and a bill that would allow some Missourians to carry concealed weapons.

Among the measures already signed into law are tougher nursing home standards, restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter drugs used in methamphetamine production and an economic development package.

Holden's office hopes to have action on all bills by Friday, well ahead of the July 14 deadline. All-day meetings were being held Tuesday on the remaining bills, although final reviews had been completed on about two-thirds of them.

"This is very challenging year and with a lot of new legislators, we've seen some interesting things, technical problems," said Jane Dueker, Holden's chief of staff and former chief legal counsel. "This is a big number of bills, and we had special session which made it very difficult."

Under the Missouri Constitution, the governor has 45 days to sign bills once a regular legislative session ends.

Sometimes, mistakes happen.

Last year, for example, Holden mistakenly signed into law two bills he planned to veto. He was able to undo the deed after Republican Secretary of State Matt Blunt gave Holden a second chance to veto the bills.

And sometimes, bills change at such a furious pace in the waning days of a legislative session that even those who have tracked them closely sometimes are surprised by the final product.

"It often happens that we find out something after session that we weren't aware of during session," Dueker said.

For example, in the mid-1980s, lawmakers mistakenly repealed Missouri's rape statutes and were forced to take the issue to the Missouri Supreme Court. The state's highest court ultimately ruled that the law had not been legally enacted.

Two of the more significant pieces of legislation that Holden has yet to officially make a decision on are measures he is likely to veto.

One would require a 24-hour waiting period for abortions, while another would impose new restrictions on personal injury lawsuits and limit the amount of money people could win in medical malpractice cases.

Lawmakers have the opportunity to override vetoes if they can muster the two-thirds majorities in each chamber to do so.

There have only been seven such overrides in the history of the state, the most recent in 1999 on a bill on so-called partial-birth abortions. The concealed guns bill vetoed last week by Holden is also a potential candidate for an override attempt.

David Webber, an associate professor of political science at University of Missouri at Columbia, said that politics sometimes play a role in a governor's decision to veto bills.

"It's a political process, and some bills I'm sure have been sent there for political reasons," Webber said. "The governor decides not only substance of bills but whether they are something he wants to get tangled up in."

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