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Missouri attorney general's office says vacancies won't affect override votes

File Photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

With several close votes expected during this week’s legislative veto session, the Missouri attorney general’s office weighed in today with a legal opinion declaring that vacancies won’t alter the number of votes in the state House and Senate required for a successful override.

In the Missouri House, the magic number is 109 votes. In the Senate, it remains 23. Some lawmakers had argued that fewer votes would be needed because of vacancies, making it easier to override Gov. Jay Nixon.

State Solicitor General James Layton laid out the office’s reasoning in response to a formal request by state Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton.

The issue has arisen because of assertions by some in the state Senate, including Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, that fewer override votes might be needed in the 34-member Senate because it has two vacancies. (Schaefer also is a 2016 candidate for Missouri attorney general.)

That disagreement could be key if there are close override votes on several hotly contested issues, most notably a “right to work’’ measure that would curb union clout.

In a seven-page opinion provided to St. Louis Public Radio, Layton notes previous instances where close overrides in the Missouri General Assembly were officially declared to have died in either chamber, because of a failure to reach the 109 or 23 votes. The chambers had vacancies at the time, which were not calculated as affecting the number of votes needed.

Wrote Layton: “There is no suggestion in the (Missouri) Constitution that the number could change due to voluntary or involuntary vacancies. The number of ‘members elected’ remains constant…”

The Missouri Supreme Court has never ruled on the matter. But Layton noted that some other states' high courts had issued such decisions. He cited the West Virginia Supreme Court's decision in 1971, in which it blocked close overrides from taking effect, saying legislative vacancies did not affect the minimum number of votes needed.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.