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Nixon signs ethics bill, anti-abortion measure becomes law without his signature

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 14, 2010 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon made his last pass today at the final stack of legislative bills awaiting his decision on whether they become laws.

He signed three into law, vetoed five and allow one to become law without his signature.

Those signed into law included SB 844, which revises the state's campaign-finance and ethics laws, although the measure lacks the restoration of campaign donation limits sought by the governor.

The bill that becomes law without his signature was arguably Nixon's biggest potential political headache: SB 793, which imposes new restrictions on abortion providers. Although the governor supports abortion rights, he had been under pressure from those on both sides of the state's seemingly never-ending debate over abortion.

Among the vetoed bills were several dealing with financial matters involving schools or corporations. But one of the five was a measure -- long sought by state Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau -- that would have given each legislator a key to the state Capitol's dome, presumably for personal tours.

In his veto letter, Nixon cited longstanding concerns among Capitol staff and law enforcement about safety and security.

The governor provided no commentary about his decisions regarding the four bills that become law.

Besides the abortion and ethics measures, Nixon also signed into law a bill, SB 733, making changes in the state's higher-education scholarship programs -- Bright Flight and Access Missouri -- anda bill that allows child abuse medical resource centers and providers to collaborate on ways to better serve child victims who need a forensic medical exam.

New ethics law curbs some campaign practices

As for the ethics measure, SB 844, Nixon had been cool to the final version, but his signature was expected since the measure achieved at least some of his objectives.

The final version curbs some controversial types of campaign activities, such as committee-to-committee transfers of campaign cash. But the final version also dropped some original provisions sought by Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, and Nixon. Chief among them: a proposed ban on legislators acting as paid consultants to each other.

The measure signed into law today will:

  • Allow the Missouri Ethics Commission to carry out investigations, even if it doesn't receive a complaint,
  • Restructure the committee system to restrict the practice of changing money between committees,
  • Require legislators to report donations of $500 or more during a session and statewide elected officials to do so when the governor has bills awaiting a signature,
  • Make obstructing an ethics investigation a Class D felony.

The bill's chief sponsor in the House, state Rep. Jason Kander, D-Kansas City, said in a statement that he was pleased that Nixon signed it into now. "I am proud to have authored many important provisions in the bill, but I remain incredibly disappointed at the crass political gamesmanship exhibited by the Republican House leadership while the rest of the Legislature worked to get this bill passed," Kander said. "As a result of their obstruction, many important reforms were left out and much of what is left in the bill is watered down."

Abortion Opponents, Rights Advocates weigh in

Among other things, the new law dealing with abortion requires that a woman planning to have an abortion first be given "the opportunity to view at least 24 hours prior to the abortion an action ultrasound of the unborn child and hear the heartbeat of the unborn child if the heartbeat is audible."

The bill also mandates that the physician performing the abortion, or a qualified professional, must provide to the woman, in person, specified printed materials that "describe the various surgical and drug-induced methods of abortion relevant to the state of pregnancy, as well as the immediate and long-term medical risks commonly associated with each abortion method."

Some abortion-rights supporters privately had expected that the governor would likely go along with the final version of SB 793, which was changed in the state Senate to be less onerous. Several abortion-rights advocates in the Senate had threatened to filibuster if the changes weren't made. A separate, stricter anti-abortion measure was killed.

Even so, Paula Gianino, the chief executive of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region -- which operates the region's only abortion clinic -- registered her disappointment.

"Abortion is already the most highly regulated medical procedure in Missouri: This law, which goes into effect on Aug. 28, adds significant new burdens and obstacles to women seeking abortion care in Missouri," Gianino said.

Among other things, she ;asserted that the "specified printed materials'' that must be given to potential abortion patients "contain ideological messages aimed at causing additional emotional distress — statements not widely agreed-upon by physicians and not based upon science or medicine."

The new law also requires that abortion providers "display a statement that promises state-funded assistance to women if they carry the pregnancy to term, despite the fact that Missouri’s budget constraints have forced the state to cut many of the promised services and there will likely be even more cuts next year," she added.

Missouri Right to Life, the state's largest anti-abortion group, lauded Nixon's decision not to veto the measure. The fact that he didn't sign the bill didn't bother Right to Life state president Pam Fichter.

"In essence, a non-veto is a win for women in Missouri who will now receive critical information before making an abortion decision," Right to Life said in a statement. "Because of Gov. Nixon’s decision to allow women to be more fully informed, we believe that more expectant mothers will choose life for their babies. Missouri Right to Life has worked hard for several years to pass this legislation and is very pleased to see it become law."

The group noted that SB 793 "also prohibits abortion coverage in the insurance exchanges created by the new federal health-care reform legislation. We can’t stop our federal tax dollars from paying for abortion outside of Missouri, but this legislation will help prevent that from happening in Missouri."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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