Historic Veto Session Comes to a Close
By St. Rep. Gary Cross
While it lasted only a day, the 2013 veto session was truly historic in scope as the legislature shattered the previous mark for overrides of the governorís vetoes. Coming into the session the legislature had 29 vetoed bills to consider with another four line-item vetoes in various budget bills. After the dust settled late Wednesday night, the House and Senate had collaborated to override 9 of the governorís vetoes on non-appropriations bills as well as his line item veto on one appropriations bill. The previous high water mark in the modern era was when the legislature overrode three of Governor Bob Holdenís vetoes in 2003. Combined with the previous two overrides the current governor had already experienced, the 2013 veto session has pushed him into uncharted territory with a total of 11 of his vetoes now being overridden, or 12 if you also count the line item veto override.
While some may tout these numbers as a triumph of the legislature over the governor, I see it more as an indication that our chief executive needs to become more engaged in working with us rather than against us. Yes, the governor had major philosophical differences with the legislature in regard to the two biggest bills Ė the tax cut and the gun rights legislation Ė but many of the other bills were vetoed because of minor issues the governor had. These are things that could easily have been fixed if our chief executive had worked with us to develop a compromise everyone could accept. Going forward, my hope is that the governor will see the wisdom in working with the legislature so we can move Missouri in a positive direction together.
Overview of Vetoed Bills Soon to be Law
The legislature fell short in its efforts to override the governorís veto of the income tax cut bill and the Second Amendment Preservation Act, but the House and Senate were able to put several other bills of substance on the path to becoming law. These pieces of legislation will go into effect as the law of the land in 30 days. Overviews of some of the bills are provided below.
HB 19 (Appropriations Bill)
We overrode the governorís line item veto in HB 19 to authorize the appropriation of $1 million for the reconstruction of the Pike-Lincoln Technical Center in Northeast Missouri that was gutted by a fire in 2011. The facility provides critical vocational-technical services to the young people and adults who are trying to obtain the skills necessary to land the jobs of today and tomorrow. While the facility was insured, it does not have the financial resources to repair and construct facilities to serve the needs of the many people in the area who want vo-tech training. Specifically, the bill will help provide the additional funding to equip the building with computers and to make it accessible to people with disabilities. We believe in training our young people for the jobs they will need to sustain and support a family and for that reason we overrode the governorís veto in a bipartisan fashion to appropriate this money for an extremely worthy cause.
HB278 (Federal Holidays Bill)
The legislature came together to stand in defense of our rights to publicly celebrate federal holidays such as Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas by overriding the governorís veto of HB 278. Itís unfortunate that we have reached the point where legislation is necessary to protect these rights, but we have seen in recent years a continued assault on the public celebration of Christmas and other holidays. In fact, some parents have dealt with situations where their children are prohibited from singing Christmas carols at school. We passed HB 278 during the regular session to defend our rights to celebrate these holidays openly. The bill makes it clear that any state or local governmental entity; public building, park, or school; or public setting or place is not allowed to ban or restrict the practice, mention, celebration, or discussion of any federal holiday. It is a change to our state statutes that would protect everyoneís right to practice a federally deemed holiday in a public place.
HB339 (Auto Insurance Reform Bill)
By overriding the veto on HB 339 we sent a strong message to Missourians that they should abide by our laws and obtain automobile insurance before getting behind the wheel.
Right now we know some 22 percent of Missouri drivers are uninsured. Under this bill, drives who lack insurance will give up their ability to sue and collect for noneconomic damages in an accident that involves an insured driver even if the insured driver is at fault.
We were careful to make certain there are some exceptions to this provision. For example, if the insured driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol or guilty of a serious crime, the limitations on lawsuits would not apply. In addition, uninsured motorists who lost coverage within the last six months would not be restricted under this law.
Keep in mind also that the bill only limits damages for pain and suffering, which were not traditional categories of relief under the common law. We believe this is a positive step forward and a new law that will encourage people to comply with the insurance requirement, limit lawsuits against law-abiding citizens, and prevent those without insurance from driving up costs for the system.
HB650 (Tort Reform Bill)
We overrode the governorís veto of HB 650 to protect more than 1,500 family-supporting jobs right here in Missouri. Right now the Doe Run Company is exposed to heavy liability because of a large number of lawsuits that were filed in 2005 before a law capping punitive damages in all lawsuits took effect. Keep in mind, the company did not mine the property it currently owns, which ceased mining activity prior to 1975, and instead inherited this problem.
The bill we approved bars awards of punitive damages related to property where mining ceased before 1975 if the owner can show "good faith" efforts to clean it up. It also caps punitive damage awards at $2.5 million.
By protecting this important Missouri business we can save vital jobs that would otherwise be lost and preserve a company that has worked in good faith to remediate this issue since it obtained the property in 1994.
HB1035 (Political Subdivisions Bill)
Another vetoed bill overridden by the legislature is a good government bill that makes several important changes that will now go into effect despite the governorís efforts.
Under current law, when a county clerk makes a mistake on a form submitted to the State Auditorís Office by simply putting a number in the wrong box, it can cause the tax rate ceiling to be lowered for that taxing district. The bill allows an amended form to fix a mistake or clerical error. The bill gives the State Auditorís Office control of when amended returns can be done and provides the opportunity to go back and fix a mistake. Third classification counties are on a four year audit cycle so a mistake can affect several years.
One county imposed a sales tax and was required to rollback its property tax. The clerk marked the voluntary rollback by mistake and thereby lowered the tax rate ceiling for the county. The bill will allow a change to a required rollback which is what the voters passed.
Agriculture Omnibus Bill (SB 9)
The legislature override the governorís veto on a bill that protects our stateís number one industry Ė agriculture Ė by making important changes on our laws regarding animal abuse and neglect. Right now, under Missouri law, a livestock owner who has animals that break through a fence and are unconfined for any period of time can be charged with the crime of animal abuse or neglect. While it is hard to believe, a livestock owner who has cows that get loose could actually be jailed for the "offense".
The bill we passed will give livestock owners a reasonable amount of time to get their animals back under control and allow the state to avoid needlessly punishing responsible animal owners.
In addition, the bill places harsher penalties on cattle wrestling and cattle theft, which has been a major problem in southwest Missouri.
The bill also contains provisions to develop a comprehensive long-range strategic plan for career and technical education in Missouri.
In addition, the governor vetoed SB 9 in part because of his concerns with a provision regarding foreign ownership of Missouri agricultural land. Right now our state prohibits foreign ownership of farmland and yet we have seen thousands of acres owned by those from outside our country who have found a way around the law. SB 9 is meant to grandfather in some of the foreign individuals and entities who already own Missouri land and have been responsible and productive in doing so. It also gives some teeth to our laws on this issue by giving the director of agriculture some say in future purchases of our land, and by putting a cap on those purchases so.
Child Custody and Visitation Rights for Active Duty Military Members (SB 110)
The legislature came together to override the governorís veto of SB 110 to establish the child custody and visitation rights of a deploying military parent. The bill is meant to protect deployed military members from having their custody orders changed while they are unavailable to respond to any court actions brought by the other parent.
It provides deployed military parents the right to attend a hearing modifying visitation rights to his or her child. Also, the bills require 30 days before such a hearing can be conducted after the affected person returns home from deployment. In addition, the bills require that communications between parent and child are maintained even during the deployment.
Volunteer Health Services Act (SB129)
By overriding the governorís veto of SB 129 and placing the bill into law, we will eliminate an enormous barrier that has prevented many health care professionals from volunteering their services in times of need. The threat of litigation and the need for expensive medical malpractice insurance have prevented many capable health care professionals from providing their services during emergencies. This bill is designed to ensure Missourians continue to receive quality care, and that health care practitioners are not subjected to overly-burdensome regulations or frivolous litigation.
The bill will exempt a volunteer health care provider from civil liability unless they exhibit gross negligence or willful misconduct in providing their services. The bill also will allow health care professionals to provide services within their scope of practice without the need for additional licensing or certification.
Tennessee created the model for this program in the 1990s and has used it to great effect to provide free medical care to their neediest citizens. We want to encourage our doctors and nurses to volunteer their time and their expertise to provide quality care to those who need it. The Volunteer Health Services Act will remove some of the barriers currently in place to ensure that can happen.
Voting by Videoconference (SB 170)
The governor vetoed a bill sponsored by a legislator in his own party when he prevented SB 170 from becoming law. We overrode that veto in a bipartisan fashion to allow a member of a governmental body to cast a vote by videoconference. This is something that 35 other states already allow.
Current law requires members to be physically present and in attendance at the meeting to vote. But as we all know, changes to technology have made the use of videoconferencing much more prevalent. Allowing members of school boards and fire protection districts to vote in this way would ease the burdens of travel and time constraints that many public servants face. It also is important to note that the bill does not apply to members of the Missouri General Assembly.
I do appreciate your input on matters of importance to you, your family, and community. If, at any time, you have questions, concerns or ideas to improve our state government and the quality of life for Missouri citizens, please feel free to contact me at 573-751-1459 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for taking an active role by voicing your opinions on our state and national government issues. Thank you for the honor to serve the 35th District.