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No right to work; veto override attempt fails in Missouri House

The Missouri Capitol Building in Jefferson City, Mo. Legislative action here on Thursday by Sen. Jason Crowell would refer the "right-to-work" issue to voters next year.
File photo | Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri Capitol Building in Jefferson City, Mo. Legislative action here on Thursday by Sen. Jason Crowell would refer the "right-to-work" issue to voters next year.

Updated 4:32 p.m., Sept. 16 with vote – The Republican push to bring "right to work" to Missouri failed in a 96-63 vote in the Missouri House. Up until the veto session started it was unknown whether Republicans legislative leaders would attempt the override. As it was, the GOP picked up four votes and fell short of the 109 needed to counter Gov. Jay Nixon's clear stand against the measure.

House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, says that a final decision on whether to bring up House Bill 116 could be decided right before the noon start.

"We're going to continue to work until the final hour to see if we can find the votes to pass it, because I think it has the opportunity to be a game changer for our state," Richardson said.

The bill's backers say it would bar employees from being forced to join a union or pay union dues against their will, while opponents argue it would drive down wages for all workers in Missouri, both union and non-union.  Although the bill passed during the regular session, it fell several votes short of a veto-proof majority.

If House leaders were able to persuade enough members who voted "no" to change their vote and support a veto override, Senate Democrats are expected to resume their slow-down that strangled the upper chamber during the final week of the regular session.

"Sounds a little bit like a threat," Richardson said. "I hope the Senate is functioning and operational (on Wednesday); there are ... bills where the Senate has to act first, so I'm hopeful that the Senate will be able to take those up and move them forward."

Overall, Richardson says he thinks nearly a dozen bills will be brought up in the House for override attempts, including HB 722, which would bar local governments from enacting their own minimum wage and passing ordinances like banning plastic grocery bags.

"I think there's a good likelihood that that's going to come up for a vote," Richardson said.

Original story – After numerous news stories, discussions and social media observations on the culture of the Missouri Capitol, attention finally turns to the business of state government as lawmakers return Wednesday for their annual veto session.

Aside from their plans to override several of Gov. Jay Nixon's vetoes, Republicans in the Missouri Senate will also be choosing a new leader.

Just over a month ago, Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, resigned from the Senate, leaving the president pro-tem's post vacant. Fellow Republican Ron Richard of Joplin quickly announced his intention to seek the post.

Unemployment time table

Once that's settled, Senate members and their counterparts in the Missouri House are expected to take up a number of bills for override attempts.

They include House Bill 150, which would tie unemployment benefits to the state's jobless rate, specifically cutting the benefit period to 13 weeks if the jobless rate drops below 6 percent. The House overrode that veto on the final day of the regular session, but the Senate couldn't get to it before time ran out, leading Nixon to tell reporters back in May that they've blown their shot.

"They had their chance to do it, just like the House did it, they had their chance (and) chance has come and gone … it's the law," Nixon said.  "They don't get it both ways … you only get one bite at the apple."

Senate Republicans disagree and still plan to bring up the unemployment compensation bill for an override vote.

No student transfer override

Aside from the state budget, fixing Missouri's student transfer law was one of this year's top priorities, but it, too, fell to Nixon's veto pen. The sponsor, Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, says he won't bring House Bill 42 up for an override attempt because there's not enough support.

"When we passed the bill originally in the House, there was 84 votes, (and) to get to 109, that's a lot of distance and a lot of votes to change," Wood said. "I don't believe we can do that without the support of the education organizations, and they haven't changed their opinion."

Wood said he might bring the bill to the House floor for discussion only, if time allows.

Nixon, meanwhile, says he vetoed it, in part, because it didn't include "a reasonable limit" on how much tuition receiving districts can charge sending ones. His full veto message can be viewed here.

Minimum wages and plastic bags

One override vote that may succeed is of legislation placing limits on what kind of ordinances local governments can pass, from minimum wage increases to banning plastic grocery bags. Ray McCarty, CEO of Associated Industries of Missouri, hopes lawmakers overturn Nixon’s veto of House Bill 722.

"That was a bill that passed with pretty wide margins in both the House and the Senate, (and) we're pretty confident that we'll be able to override that veto," McCarty said. "This just makes it very clear that local ordinances cannot override state law."

If the veto of HB 722 is overridden, it would likely set up a court battle over recently approved minimum wage hikes in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Senate shutdown mystery over right-to-work

However, it’s also possible that every veto override attempt would be blocked if Democrats continue their procedural shutdown of the Missouri Senate. It began during the final week of the regular session after Republicans forced a vote on House Bill 116, the so-called right-to-work bill.  Scott Sifton, D-Affton, led the shutdown.

"I think until we see whether the House overrides the governor's veto of the right-to-work bill, all bets are off," Sifton said. "Not only was debate terminated unilaterally, we were not given an opportunity to amend the bill on the floor ... that's just not how the Missouri Senate's meant to work."

So the likelihood of a normal veto session seems to hinge on whether the House overrides right-to-work, but it remains to be seen whether the bill's sponsor will bring it up. During the regular session, its margin of victory fell short of veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate.

There appears to be a concerted effort, though, to pressure pro-union Republicans lawmakers to vote in favor of an override.  A new political action committee has been formed that critics say may seek to oust state lawmakers who oppose right-to-work during next year's statewide elections.

Also, an opinion issued Monday by the state attorney general's office says that the "magic number" for overriding a veto remains at 109 for the Missouri House and 23 for the Senate, despite vacancies in both chambers.

Other vetoed bills that could be brought up for override votes include:

  • Senate Bill 224, under which A+ scholarships could only go to students who are U.S. citizens or who can provide documentation that they are in the country legally
  • Senate Bill 20, which would create a tax exemption for commercial laundries that clean and treat textiles
  • Senate Bill 142, which would require the Department of Natural Resources to put together an impact report before submitting any implementation plan to the federal Environmental Protection Agency

This year's veto session begins Wednesday at 12 p.m. and is expected to last only one day.
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.