News Column

Missouri Can't Override Vetoes of Tax Cut, Gun Laws

September 12, 2013

Elizabeth Crisp and Kevin McDermott, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

missouri capitol
Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City (photo: Visitjeffersoncity, Creative Commons)

Sept. 12--JEFFERSON CITY -- Gov. Jay Nixon scored two key victories as the Republican-controlled Legislature failed to override his vetoes of legislation that aimed to cut income taxes and nullify federal gun laws Wednesday.

The tax cut bill and the anti-gun control measure were among key priorities for Republicans as they returned to the Capitol this week to try to overrule the Democratic governor on more than two dozen bills that he struck down.

But despite holding historic supermajorities in both the House and Senate, Republicans couldn't muster enough votes on the two high-profile override attempts after Nixon, a former attorney general, launched a summer-long campaign against the tax cut measure and raised several legal questions about the gun bill.

Still, lawmakers managed to hand Nixon a record number of defeats -- overriding the governor on 10 bills including measures that will cap punitive damages in lawsuits against the Doe Run Co. at $2.5 million per lawsuit, make it harder for some drivers to sue after accidents, allow payday loan companies to raise their interest rates, and protect federal holidays like Christmas.

Legislative leaders also vowed to continue pushing for a tax cut bill next year, which they say will spur economic development and make Missouri more competitive with its neighboring states.

"This is only a temporary setback for the majority of House members who believe substantive tax relief is the best way to grow our economy and to help the hard-working Missourians who deserve to keep more of their hard-earned dollars," said House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka.

Nixon, who characterized the tax cut legislation as poorly drafted and harmful to education funding, hailed the unsuccessful override attempt as "a defining moment for our state and a victory for all Missourians."

"This was a turning point ... (for) issues that really matter," he said.

The effort to override Nixon's veto had been bolstered by a newly formed coalition of Missouri business groups and a media campaign largely funded by wealthy St. Louis investor Rex Sinquefield.

Passed in the final days of the regular session after months of debate and revisions, the tax cut legislation was viewed by many Republicans as a key accomplishment. But Nixon immediately seized on several apparent flaws, including provisions that he said would raise the costs of prescription drugs and college textbooks while creating a hole in the state budget.

The legislation sought to lower the top personal income tax rate by one-half of a percentage point, to 5.5 percent. The corporate tax rate would have been reduced by 3 percentage points, to 3.25 percent. The cuts would have been phased in over 10 years.

The centerpiece of the bill was a 50 percent tax cut, phased in over five years, for businesses that "pass through" their income to the owner's personal return.

In the end, the House defeated the override with only 94 of the required 109 members supporting it.

"While today brought with it disappointment, we are encouraged and energized by the support we were able to amass in a such short period of time and by the conversation we have sparked regarding the need for tax reform here in Missouri," said Grow Missouri Coalition treasurer Aaron Willard.

Working late into the evening Wednesday, lawmakers still had an opportunity to override several of Nixon's other vetoes from this year's legislative session. The veto session showed a stark contrast from previous years, when lawmakers have attempted few -- if any -- overrides. The previous record for overrides in a single year was the Legislature's three in 2003.

About 100 gun rights advocates rallied at the Capitol earlier in the day in favor of the gun legislation, while the national Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said it was prepared to file a federal lawsuit against the state if the override attempt was successful.

Under the proposed legislation, Missouri would not have recognized federal laws that "infringe on the people's right to keep and bear arms." It also would have created a misdemeanor for federal officials who tried to enforce those measures.

In the days leading up to the veto session, the legislation came under fire from law enforcement and Attorney General Chris Koster, who released a letter last week criticizing the bill as "flawed public policy" that would prohibit local law enforcement from working with federal agencies.

Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Couer, told the House that the bill had "many bad and unintended consequences."

"It turns law enforcement into criminals and criminals into victims," she said.

But supporters argued that the bill was necessary to strike back against what they see as a potential for federal overreach.

"We don't want anybody infringing on our rights in this great state," said Rep. John McCaherty, R-High Ridge.

The override passed in the House 109-49 but failed in the Senate 22-12.

Among their successes, GOP lawmakers overturned Nixon's veto of a bill that limits punitive damages in lawsuits against Doe Run. The lead mining company is facing several liability suits alleging that lead contamination has caused health problems. The company says the suits could put it out of business, costing 1,600 jobs. The new law bars punitive damages at mining sites that stopped operating by 1975, and caps other damages to $2.5 million.

Speaking in favor of the measure, Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said the override would help save jobs and keep the facility from closing.

"This is not about not letting people seek restitution," he said. "It's about putting some reasonable caps."

In its final actions of the veto session, just before midnight the House voted down attempts to override Nixon's vetoes of legislation that sought to prevent foreign laws and a United Nations resolution from being applied in Missouri. Both had won veto-override votes earlier in the Senate.

Media coverage and critics of the foreign laws bill often described it in the context of the U.S. anti-Sharia Law movement. In more than 20 states, conservatives have pushed measures to highlight alleged influences of Islamist Sharia religious law in America. Others maintain it's a nonissue that is merely being used to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment.

Sen. Brian Nieves, a Washington Republican who sponsored the bill, denied that it specifically targeted Sharia Law. Nieves insisted that the bill was merely meant to ensure "that in Missouri, we are not going to have court cases decided by using foreign law," regardless of where those laws might originate.

But Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, called the legislation "bigotry at its highest level."

"A blind man can see that it is. ... That's exactly what it's about," Nasheed said from the Senate floor.

The U.N. bill, also sponsored by Nieves, sought to block implementation of a nonbinding United Nations plan called Agenda 21, which was adopted in 1992 to promote sustainable development.

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(c)2013 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Original headline: Missouri Legislature fails to override vetoes of tax cut, gun legislation


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