«RM75»«FC»COL23.MDH - 45 Days That Balance Power and Politics in Missouri
This year's session of the legislature -- formally known as the Second Regular Session of the 98th Missouri General Assembly, adjourned pursuant to the Constitution at midnight on May 30.
Granted, the speeches, amendments, debates, votes, introduction of guests and affiliated standing and grandstanding concluded a couple of weeks earlier -- replete with the sophomoric littering of the House chamber with bills and amendments tossed into the air by departing lawmakers.
But the law leaves a couple of weeks afterward for bills to be printed, signed and delivered before the who session wraps up, as they say, sine die.
As adjournment ended the four and one-half month fete of this year's legislative ballet, it opened another, shorter period in which the lion's share of the legislature's handiwork hangs in the balance of both power and politics between the state's lawmakers and governor.
Back in the days before voter registration -- when machines ran Missouri politics -- the governor was the boss and the lawmakers showed up in the Capitol every two years for a session, to pass a budget and make to boss happy. The lieutenant governor was president of the Senate, assigned bills to committee and generally made sure that the boss -- the governor -- got what he wanted.
In the 1960s that changes -- somewhat -- with voter registration and U.S. Supreme Court decisions restricting gerrymandering -- a fight that continues still. Shortly afterward, the Missouri Senate demoted the lieutenant governor to the ex-officio president of the Senate and transferred his power to one of their own -- the president pro tem.
With the exception of a few election turnover love-fests, such as Gov. Carnahan in 1993 and Gov. Blunt in 2005, this began an era in which the relationships between the governors and lawmakers -- particularly the Senate -- have not always been overly harmonious -- even with lawmakers and governors of the same party.
Yet, the two must agree for law to be made. Once lawmakers pass a bill, it is sent to the governor to be signed into law, vetoed and returned, or allowed to become law should the governor take no action. Unlike the president, Missouri governors do not have the power of a pocket veto.
The timing of when a bill is sent to the governor can be part of the political strategy of lawmakers. This is because the constitution allows the governor only 15 days to act on a bill if it is sent during the legislative session, but 45 days if it is sent after the session adjourns.
Generally, governors do not like to be rushed, particularly when it comes to the tedious parsing of thousands of pages of bills written in legislative wording that can be maddeningly obtuse. Thus, when lawmakers load up the chief executive with bills on the 15-day plan, pleasing the governor is not their objective.
This year, lawmakers passed 57 Senate bills and 81 House bills, including 18 appropriations and capital improvement bills, plus several resolutions having the force and effect of law. By June 1, the governor had acted on 23 of these, including 14 bills that make up the state operating budget.
One bill changing the financial level for "fully" funding public education was vetoed by the governor and that veto was overridden. Also overridden was the veto of a resolution repealing a raise for personal care attendants.
Lawmakers attempted but failed to override the veto of a bill that would have required workers to approve annually the deduction of union dues from their checks. Parts of two budget bill were vetoed, as was a measure changing laws on worker compensation.
The rest of the measures were signed, leaving the governor 44 days to review and decide the fate of the remaining 115 measures... and a great deal of maddeningly obtuse language to parse before the July 14 deadline for executive action on bills passed this year.
[After a career in journalism, Mark Hughes became a top, non-partisan policy analyst for Missouri government including the state Senate, state Treasurer's Office and the utility-regulating PSC. He has been an observer and analyst of state government since the administration of Gov. Kit Bond.]