Abortion, guns top issues of veto session

Monday, September 8, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri Legislature's annual fall veto session to reconsider bills rejected by the governor is typically a brief, uneventful affair. But since Democratic Gov. Bob Holden spiked a near-record 30 bills passed last spring, including high-profile measures on abortion and concealed weapons, majority Republicans are planning to attempt several overrides.

Although Republicans outnumber Democrats 20-13 in the Senate and 90-71 in the House of Representatives, their numbers fall short of the two-thirds majorities needed to overrule the governor.

Holden said he doesn't expect many successful overrides during the session, which begins Wednesday. His veto tally this year is second only the record of 35 set by Gov. John Dalton of Kennett in 1961.

"I'd ask all members of the General Assembly to look at my justification for these vetoes," Holden said. "I believe they're sound."

Four of the rejected bills were budget measures lawmakers repassed in revised form and that Holden ultimately signed into law. As a result, 26 bills remain for reconsideration.

Of those, 22 passed by "veto proof" margins with a minimum 23 Senate votes and 109 House votes.

However, Democrats likely will be unwilling to buck the governor on bills that don't generate strong feelings among constituents.

The legislature has overridden vetoes only seven times in state history.

24-hour waiting period

The only override attempt widely expected to succeed this year is on a measure to impose a 24-hour waiting period on women seeking an abortion. The bill originally passed 122-35 in the House and 23-6 in the Senate.

House Majority Floor Leader Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said that issue will be the first the chamber will tackle Wednesday, followed by a bill that would allow Missourians to carry concealed weapons.

Crowell said he doesn't plan on using his power to shut down debate and force a vote on those controversial measures, so he expects a long and lively discussion.

"It is my intent to stay in until we get done on those two bills," Crowell said.

With a 111-43 regular session result on concealed weapons, a successful House override on the bill is anticipated. However, the measure looks to fall at least one vote short in the Senate.

Although the upper chamber originally passed it 23-7, one of the supporting votes came from Senate Minority Floor Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia. A staunch concealed weapons opponent, Jacob initially voted "yes" as a strategic move.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Michael Gibbons of Kirkwood, the lone Republican against the bill, had been expected to flip during veto session and provide the 23rd vote. However, state Sen. Jon Dolan, R-St. Charles, was recently called to active military duty in Cuba. His absence may kill any possibility for an override.

Bill banning gun lawsuits

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, is more hopeful of the chances of another gun-related bill, one he sponsored that would ban Missouri and its cities and counties from suing the firearms industry over the social costs of gun violence.

"That has lopsided bipartisan support," Kinder said.

The bill, which passed 24-9 in the Senate and 118-41 in the House, aimed to finally derail a lawsuit filed by St. Louis that has languished in court for years.

Another priority Republican bill the Senate will consider would cap certain financial awards in civil lawsuits and restrict where such cases may be filed. However, regular session support for the measure fell well short of two-thirds in both chambers.

"I expect the motion will be made on tort reform without any expectation it will be successfully overridden," Kinder said.

The Senate will also seek to enact a measure that would allow counties to establish "crime reduction funds" supported by fees paid by criminal defendants. Holden vetoed it on constitutional grounds. State Rep. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, would handle the bill should it make it to the House.

Vetoed bills have to clear their chamber of origin before the other can consider them.

House Minority Floor Leader Mark Abel, D-Festus, said that although many House Democrats will support overrides on abortion and concealed weapons, he doubts they will have much enthusiasm for any other issues.

"You try to support your governor's reasoning and give him the benefit of the doubt, so I don't think you are going to have a lot of overrides," Abel said.

The third major House bill to be taken up is a foster-care reform. Although Holden and most Democratic lawmakers supported the effort, the governor called the final product seriously flawed.

Abel said the best course of action would be for Holden and the bill's sponsor, House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, to agree on a compromise bill for lawmakers to consider in a concurrent special session that will begin today.

"I am more hopeful that route would be taken rather than a veto override," Abel said.

Crowell said members will have the opportunity to bring up other vetoed bills, including several creating specialty license plates and a traffic regulations measure sponsored by state Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson.

Asking for tax-break repeal

In the special session, Holden is asking lawmakers to consider repealing four corporate tax breaks. He says the $44 million that action would generate during the current fiscal year is needed to restore part of the $210 million in education spending he withheld to bring the budget in balance.

Since Republicans rejected similar proposals earlier in the year, Crowell said, the issue likely won't make much progress.

"I have seen nothing that has changed that would mount enough support," Crowell said.

However, Kinder held out the possibility for Senate action.

"I am not closing the door on moving some bills," Kinder said. "I have an open mind and will look at what the governor's proposing."

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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