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Missouri House overrides Nixon's veto of bill that lowers unemployment benefits

Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick watches as House Speaker John Diehl signs the veto override of HB 150. unemployment
Tim Bommel | Missouri House of Representatives

With no votes to spare, the Missouri House acted Tuesday to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill that would reduce the state’s unemployment benefits to 13 weeks, one of the lowest in the country.

The lower benefits would go into effect when the state’s unemployment rate is below 6 percent, as it is now.

The Missouri Senate also would need to vote to override the governor’s veto of the bill, HB 150, before it could go into effect. It’s unclear if that chamber will do so before Friday’s adjournment, because the Senate is embroiled in a debate over an anti-union bill known as “right to work.”

But because of the timing of Nixon’s veto, the Senate could attempt an override of HB 150 during the annual September veto session.

The House’s 109-53 vote came after Republican leaders succeeded in persuading one of their own, Rep. Nick King, R-Liberty, to change his vote. An override requires at least 109 House votes. King’s district includes the Ford Claycomo auto plant.

House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis who is also a state union official, contended later that King – who won by less than 80 votes last November – made a serious political misstep.

Missouri currently offers 20 weeks of unemployment benefits, which already is among the nation’s lowest. Most states offer 26 weeks. Missouri would join Florida and North Carolina, which offer lower benefits. Those states allow benefits to drop to 12 weeks when the unemployment rate drops below 5 percent.

Backers of the 13-week limit for Missouri contended that the lower benefits would help businesses and could create more jobs. “We need to move this bill forward,’’ said Rep. Rocky Miller, R-Lake Ozark.

He said the lower benefits would help the state’s unemployment fund, which has had to borrow money from the federal government several times when Missouri’s fund has not had enough money to pay benefits to all the unemployed workers who have applied for them.

Some Republicans also asserted that lower benefits would encourage unemployed workers to seek new jobs.

But opponents, which included all House Democrats, accused the GOP of seeking to punish the unemployed, including those who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

Said Rep. Margo McNeil, D- Florissant: “We are really hurting those people that are down and out right now. …We’re going to vote to be the absolute lowest state in the nation, the absolute stingiest state in the nation with this override. I mean, where is our humanity?”

Ray Howze contributed to this article.

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