Holden - No abortion wait or tort reform

Thursday, July 10, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Bob Holden vetoed 22 bills Wednesday, including measures on abortion and lawsuit reform that were priority issues for the Missouri Legislature's Republican majorities.

GOP leaders vowed to attempt to override the Democratic governor on several of the bills during September's annual veto session.

Holden said imposing a 24-hour waiting period on women seeking an abortion would impose an undue burden.

"The extra requirement for women, who have already made a difficult choice, is demeaning and accomplishes nothing," Holden said.

House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, said the bill would have allowed women time to fully consider their options before making a life-changing decision.

"In far too many instances, women have been transported to abortion clinics by people who want them to make the decision to have an abortion," Hanaway said. "This 24-hour cooling-off period provides an opportunity for women to have more information and also to remove themselves from those coercive situations."

On lawsuit reform, Holden said he supports legislation that would cap certain damage awards in medical malpractice cases and provide other protections that would address rising malpractice insurance costs for doctors. However, he said the bill he vetoed had been "hijacked by lobbyists and special interests" and was too expansive.

Business groups had pushed hard for the bill, which they said would help keep jobs in the state by reducing litigation costs. Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber Commerce, accused Holden of using the issue for political advantage.

"Unfortunately, he turned an important issue into a political token and vetoed the legislation because his largest contributors -- plaintiff's attorneys -- told him to do it," Mehan said.

While Holden had been expected to reject the lawsuit reform and abortion measures, several of the other vetoes came as a surprise to the proposals' sponsors.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said he was stunned at the veto of his bill that would have barred Missouri cities and counties from suing firearms manufacturers over the social costs of gun violence.

"It has always had lopsided bipartisan support," Kinder said. "Not one of these frivolous lawsuits has ever succeeded."

The measure was specifically intended to derail a lawsuit filed by St. Louis city. That case has languished in court for several years.

Holden said courts should determine the validity of such issues, not lawmakers.

Crime reduction funds

The governor also rejected a bill that would have allowed counties to establish "crime reduction funds" to supplement sheriff's departments budgets. Many counties had such funds until 1998, when the Missouri Supreme Court ruled the counties had no legal authority to establish them.

Southeast Missouri lawmakers have been pushing to reinstate the funds ever since. Holden's veto marks the third time in five years that the legislature has approved the bill without it becoming law. Gov. Mel Carnahan vetoed it in 1999, and in 2001 technical problems voided passage.

The bill would have allowed judges to order criminal defendants who receive suspended sentences and probation to pay a fee of up to $250 into the county crime fund.

Holden said the measure would violate the state constitution, which requires revenue from criminal fines to go to education.

"At a time when I'm trying to find every dime we can for public education and keep it there, they are taking money away from public schools," Holden said.

State Rep. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, handled the measure this year and dismissed the governor's constitutional argument, saying there is a distinction between fines paid as part of a sentence and fees paid when the sentence is suspended. Only in the former instance would the money have to go to education under the constitution, Mayer said.

"What is funny to me is that not one time in the session did anyone in the education community voice opposition to this bill," Mayer said.

Both Kinder and Mayer said they would attempt to override the vetoes of their bills. Given the overwhelming legislative support those measures enjoyed, they expect to succeed.

Jackson project

Holden also vetoed an omnibus 180-page traffic regulations bill that originated as a simple proposal by state Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, to ensure that the Missouri Department of Transportation fairly compensates property owners for loss of road access resulting from the redesign of highways.

Lipke took up the issue at the behest of landowners along highways 34 and 72 in Jackson who were concerned about the impact MoDOT's controversial changes to the road would have on their property values.

Holden's action was unrelated to the Jackson issue but resulted from a sales tax exemption that would have cost the cash-strapped state $10.6 million in lost revenue.

Other provisions of the bill would have brought state regulations governing truck weights and commercial driver's licenses in line with federal rules, increased fees drunken drivers pay to attend mandatory substance abuse classes and barred tractor-trailers from traveling in the left lane on highways with more than two lanes.

So far Holden has vetoed 29 bills, including four budget measures lawmakers repassed during a June special legislative session. He ultimately signed those revised spending bills into law.

Holden said most of the bills he vetoed Wednesday were because of technical errors. One bill, for example, inadvertently would have given the Platte County Commission control of the Kansas City municipal budget, he said.

Holden has signed 155 bills approved in the regular session and has through Monday to sign or veto 70 bills still awaiting action.


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