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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of September 14, 2015

Gov. Jay Nixon is tied for the most non-budget veto overrides in Missouri history, but said he's more focused on substance than numbers.

"I didn't come to this job undefeated and I won't leave it undefeated," Nixon said.

Nixon told reporters in Jefferson City that he will not be suing the legislature following its veto override of cuts to unemployment compensation, making the period people can claim benefits in Missouri among the shortest in the nation.

"I try stay in those two branches of government as much as I can without engaging a third one to help the conversation move forward," Nixon said of involving the judiciary in suing the legislature.

According to the governor, the Senate's veto override of the unemployment compensation bill was unconstitutional.

Nixon vetoed the bill during the 2015 legislative session and said that, since the Senate did not override the initial veto during the session, it missed the opportunity to override the veto at that point.

"As the Senate said last night, I mean, they said, 'this is going to be decided in court,'" Nixon said.

On the same day lawmakers handed Gov. Jay Nixon a near historic set of veto-override defeats, he also was handed a setback in his efforts to build a new football stadium in St. Louis.

Delivered to Nixon on Wednesday, Sept. 16, was a petition signed by 21 senators that they would oppose any efforts to appropriate funds to pay off bonds issued to build the stadium if the bond issue does not get prior approval by the legislature or Missouri voters.

"Together, we pledge to vigorously oppose any proposal to appropriate state taxpayer dollars for debt service on a new stadium that is not authorized by a prior vote of the public or the General Assembly," the petition warns Nixon.

The 21 senators represent more than a majority of the 34-member Senate.

Nixon has argued that extending the bonds issued for the current NFL stadium in order to build a new stadium does not require legislative or voter approval.

The leader of the petition dismissed any concern that the senators could be attacked for undermining Nixon's efforts to keep the Rams football team in Missouri.

"It's not up to the governor to try to negotiate illegally," said Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. "We're talking about putting the state in debt and it's going to cost $300 million by the time we pay principal and interest for 30 years."

The owner of the Rams has begun efforts to get NFL approval to move the Rams back to the Los Angeles area.

Gov. Jay Nixon now is tied for suffering the greatest number of non-budget veto-overrides in Missouri history.

On Wednesday, Sept. 16, Missouri's legislature overrode 10 of the governor's vetoes. Coupled with the two vetoes overridden in the spring, it ties the 1833 record for legislative rejection of a governor's vetoes of non-budget items.

In all, 12 of the 18 bills Nixon vetoed will become law.

Among the major vetoes overridden are bills that would allow higher charges for some consumer loans, restrict cities from raising minimum wage requirements or banning plastic grocery bags, give police powers to private security guards, limit unemployment benefit coverage, continue a tax break for large laundries, and ban a college scholarship program for some children of illegal/undocumented foreigners.

Labor isses dominated the the final hours of the veto session with the General Assembly handing Nixon a major defeat, but also a major victory.

In the afternoon, the House sustained the governor's veto of the "Right to Work" bill that would prohibit requiring a person to be a union member to hold or keep a job.

But later in the evening, the Senate joined the House in voting to override the governor's veto of a measure that will cut the number of weeks a person can collect unemployment compensation during periods of high employment in the state.

Nixon's vetoes that the legislature overrode are:

Also see the list of vetoed bills with links to the veto letters and rollcalls.

Supporters fell 13 votes short of the number needed to override the governor's veto of the bill that would have prohibited requiring a worker to join a union or pay union fees.

Four Republicans who had voted against the bill last spring switched and supported the override.

But 20 Republicans voted against the override motion.

Supporters of the bill argued it would help bring jobs to Missouri and provide workers the freedom of choice.

"If we really want to do right by the workers, we're going let, give workers the freedom and the the union will represent them the best," said the bill's sponsor -- Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield.

Critics described the bill as an attack on organized labor.

"This is about a systematic attack on workers, working families," said Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis. "It's all based on greed."

Several hundred labor union supporters packed the visitors gallery overlooking the House chamber and listened to the two-hour debate.

For the first time in Missouri history, a former House Speaker will hold the Senate's top position as Senate president pro tem.

The day before the Missouri legislature convenes for the veto session, Republican senators have named their choices for new Senate leadership. The Republican caucus named their current GOP leader -- Ron Richard, R-Joplin -- to fill the Senate president pro tem vacancy left by the resignation of Tom Dempsey.

Dempsey resigned from the position with a year left in his term to take a job with a conservative advocacy group.

Richard was the floor majority leader under Dempsey. Although selected by the GOP caucus that commands a majority of the Senate, the full Senate must vote on his formal election when the veto session convenes Wednesday.

"I'm filling out Tom's final year, I mean committee chairmans are already appointed so that's not going to change, and I'm going to be fair like him on sending the bills to committees and trying to get priorities of the caucus and trying to get priorities of senators," Richard said.

Richard's selection came just two months after one senator criticized the Senate for becoming to House-like in its approach to concentration of power.

As the first to serve as leader of both the House and Senate Richard said he can't compare the two positions, because the job descriptions are different.

"Everybody has their own mind and their own way to do things over here, and the rules are different over here," Richard said.

Successful political consultant Jack Cardetti has joined New Approach Missouri and their campaign to legalize medical marijuana in 2016.

Having worked on campaigns like Gov. Jay Nixon's and Secretary of State Jason Kander's, Cardetti is no rookie when it comes to working on a successful campaign.

The executive director and treasurer of Show-Me Cannabis John Payne said Cardetti will do a lot for the campaign.

"I think that Jack's experience can be brought to bear to help us assemble the best possible campaign team and to raise money that's necessary to get this issue before voters," said Payne. "That's really the key."

Past campaigns to legalize medical marijuana have failed due to lack of signatures. Cardetti said 2016 is the time for this issue.

"We think it's a really timely issue," Cardetti said. "What we're gonna do is seek to have Missouri be the 24th state that allows physicians to recommend small amounts of marijuana to patients that are suffering serious and debilitating illnesses."

New Approach Missouri is in the early stages of its campaign, however Cardetti said he believes they will have the support they need to get this issue on the ballot next year.

"It really ought to be up to physicians and patients to decide what the best form of medical treatment is," Cardetti said. "We just feel strongly that this ought to be an option, at least, on the table."

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, instances of tree rot and fungi appearing across the state was likely caused by the massive drought that affect the Midwest in 2012.

Simeon Wright, a forest pathologist at the Missouri Department of Conservation, said that trees are much more vulnerable to developing rot and fungus when they are subjected to periods of high stress.

The 2012 drought was one of those periods.

"Many trees may not show symptoms right away, but over time, a few years later, there's been more time for wood decay fungi to begin to develop and other disease and insect issues to occur," Wright said. "Once you have all of that stress on the tree that may have been initiated with the drought, it can take a couple of years for those symptoms to become apparent."

Although Wright said that wetter weather, including what the state experienced this summer, can cause tree diseases, it likely doesn't increase the frequency of wood decay.

He said wounds sustained by a tree that allow fungus to infiltrate the tree's interior tend to lead to more cases of fungus growth.

When trees begin to rot, they become less structurally sound.

Wright said these trees could become dangerous.

"When you see evidence of decay, particularly the fungi growing on trees, that indicates that the tree may be becoming a hazard because it's not structurally sound anymore," Wright said. "It could break over in a storm or something like that and cause damage to property or to people that are near the tree."

The Department of Conservation recommends that anyone who is concerned about a potentially rotting tree on their property contact a certified arborist.

Homeowners can find a certified arborist in their area by visiting

Last Week

Labor issues and a business tax cut will be among the issues before Missouri's General Assembly when it convenes at noon on Wednesday, Sept. 16, to consider bills vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon.

Before state lawmakers will be 16 bills vetoed by the governor earlier this year. Several likely will not be brought up for a vote since they did not pass with the two-thirds majority that would be necessary in each chamber to override a veto.

The two labor bills vetoed by the governor have gotten the greatest attention with statewide campaigns for and against an override.

One bill would lower the number of weeks a person out of work could get unemployment compensation during periods when the state has a high rate of employment.

Under current law, a worker who has lost his or her job is eligible for up to 20 weeks of unemployment compensation.

The vetoed measure would reduce the number of weeks if the state's unemployment rate fell below nine percent.

One week of eligibility would be removed for each one-half percentage point below nine percent with a floor of 13 weeks if the unemployment rate is below six percent.

Missouri's Labor Department reports the unemployment rate was at 5.8 percent for the month of August -- which would mean a reduction in unemployment compensation benefits from 20 weeks to 13 weeks.

In August, more than 4,000 unemployed workers received the benefits.

The House overrode the governor's veto during the regular session in May.

However, Senate leaders chose not to shut off a Democratic filibuster to force a vote to override the unemployment compensation veto.

When the legislature adjourned without taking a vote, Nixon promptly declared that his veto had been sustained.

Nixon argued the state Constitution limits to the regular session any override vote of a veto made early enough for lawmakers to consider it before the session adjourns.

Republicans have disagreed.

The other labor issue is "Right to Work" which prohibits an employer from requiring a person to join a union or pay union fees to get or keep a job.

The measure cleared both the House and Senate short of the two-thirds majority that will be needed for an override.

Although Republicans command more than a two-thirds majority in both chambers, the measure has faced opposition from Republicans representing districts with significant labor membership.

About 20 percent of House Republicans and 16 percent of Senate Republicans voted against the measure.

The tax-cut measure is a retread of one of the several tax-cut measures Nixon vetoed last year.

The bill would provide a sales-tax exemption for large laundries for purchases of energy, equipment and supplies.

To be eligible for the tax exemption, the commercial laundry would have to process at least 500 pounds of laundry per hour.

Legislative staff estimate the measure would cost state government $1.5 million per year in the first full year of implementation.

In his veto letter, Nixon charged the tax break was unfair because it would provide a tax break that would not be provided to smaller commercial laundries and other types of businesses.

The bill's sponsor -- Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County -- argued commercial laundries had enjoyed the tax break for several years until a recent court decision held that laundries were not covered by an existing sales-tax break provided to manufacturers for purchase of equipment and other costs.

A related tax issue before the veto session involves two bills that would impose a number of special fees on court cases to fund various projects.

In recent years, the legislature has imposed special fees on various court actions in various locations to fund courthouse improvements and retirement coverage.

In vetoing the bills, Nixon wrote that if extra funds are needed these type of projects, they should be submitted to local voters for approval as a tax increase.

Before the legislature adjourned their regular session in mid-May, it had overridden two of the governor's vetoes. One imposes restrictions and limits on one of the state's major welfare programs, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The other bill, now law, prohibits a current or former school district superintendent from running for the district school board.

Unlike last year when Nixon made several "line-item" budget reduction vetoes, he did not make a single veto cutting the state's budget.

Lawmakers had passed the budget early enough in the session that they would have had the opportunity to vote to override any spending cut made by the governor.

Scaffolding outside the Capitol

Legislators will encountered blocked off doors and closed elevators at the Capitol when they return for the Wednesday, Aug. 16, veto session.

The main entrances to the Capitol have been closed and half of the building's elevators removed as part of a long-term renovation of the building that was opened in 1917.

During the 2015 Legislative session, the legislature approved $40 million for the Capitol renovation. The funding was endorsed by the governor who took reporters on a basement tour earlier this year to point out growing drainage problmes for the building..

"Water infiltration from damaged exterior building elements has caused cracks and rusting to occur, compromising the structural integrity of the building," said Office of Administration Director of Communications Ryan Burns.

If these repairs can properly seal and waterproof the building, the project will be a success.

In combination with heating, ventilation and air conditioning modifications and elevator repairs, the renovation is expected to extend the life of the Capitol.

Temporary, outside scaffolding was build to search for loose stone. One unsafe stone was discovered.

In 1998, a 300 point block of stone fell onto the porch outside the governor's office. It crashed just outside the office of Gov. Mel Carnahan's chief of staff.

The state's Public Service Commission has approved a filing from Ameren Missouri to increase the fuel and purchased power adjustment charge (FAC) each customer is required to pay, according to a press release.

According to the Public Service Commission, a residential customer pays a monthly FAC of approximately $4.62.

This adjustment will increase that payment to roughly $5.08 a month.

"Fuel adjustment charges are intended to help companies deal with volatility in fuel pricing," the release from the Public Service Commission reads. "The FAC tariff requires regular adjustments to reflect changes in prices the company has incurred for fuel and for wholesale power purchased to serve customers."

Ameren Missouri is the electricity supplier to approximately 1.2 million Missourians.

The increase is expected to go into effect starting September 24, 2015.

Usually it is the spouse of a prisoner who seeks a divorce.

But on Tuesday, Sept. 8, Missouri's Supreme Court handed down a decision reject an effort by an inmate to divorce his wife.

A lower court had rejected the divorce petition based on John McNeal's inability to leave the Jefferson City Correctional Center to be present for the court divorce hearing.

A state law restricts inmates from appearing in court for civil cases, but gives the judge authority to hold a non-jury trial with the inmate remaining in the prison.

But in McNeal's case, the circuit court simply dismissed his case for failure to appear.

McNeal appealed directly to the state high court.

But in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that the appeal should have filed with the appellate court.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Laura Stith wrote that the circuit court's dismissal of McNeal's divorce case raised a significant issue of constitutional rights that was a valid issue for the state high court to consider on direct appeal.

"The constitutional validity of the application of these Missouri statutes in a manner that denies the right to dissolve a marriage to prisoners such as Mr. McNeal who are unable to be present in court due to their incarceration presents a real and substantial issue," Stith wrote.

However, McNeal's divorce case is not finished.

Instead, the Supreme Court transferred the case to the Western District Court of Appeals.

The debate revolving around so-called "right to work" legislation remains tense as the 2015 legislative veto session approaches.

The bill would ban the ability to require an employee to join or pay dues to a union.

For proponents of the legislation, passing "right to work" means Missouri is on the same level as economically competitive states.

"Missouri has lost over 2 billion dollars in adjusted gross income over the last 20 years and a lot of that money has gone to Right To Work states like Texas, Arizona and North Carolina," said Rachel Payton, the deputy state director of conservatively-funded Americans for Prosperity. "While those states are seeing a 42 percent gain in total employment, and in non-Right To Work we're only seeing 19 percent."

According to critics of the legislation, right-to-work could have far-reaching consequences in Missouri.

"Even the sponsors of the bill have admitted that once Right To Work bill passes, wages are going to go down for workers," said Mike Louis, the president of the Missouri AFL-CIO.

According to Louis, workers' wages decrease by $2,500 in states with right-to-work legislation.

"So the family quits paying taxes on five-thousand dollars of their income to the state into the school districts," Louis said. "You multiply that by the number of working families in the state, you're talking one hell of a lot of money."

The veto session is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 16.