®RM75¯®FC¯COLMH3.MDH - Missouri Veto Overrides, Exercises In Show and Substance
Missouri's first veto override came in 1820, before Missouri even achieved statehood. The act may have been prescient of the fledgling state's future, involving disagreements over tax dollars and establishing veto overrides as exercises in both show and substance. The very first bill passed by lawmakers authorized salary payments and travel expenses for... lawmakers. Gov. Alexander McNair, in an early confirmation of Missouri as a frugal state, returned the first bill passed with the first gubernatorial veto. Lawmakers proceeded to enact the first veto override in Missouri's history.
In 1820, Gov. Daniel Dunklin, apparently an early advocate for family values, vetoed a dozen bills lawmakers had passed to grant divorces to nearly 50 not-so-happy Missouri couples. Lawmakers overrode every veto. The debate over whether lawmakers should be indulging in divorces or whether such matters were the exclusive domain of courts was clearly settled by the constitution of 1865, which prohibited the legislature from granting divorces.
Lilburn Boggs was one of the state's more colorful governors, managing to get Missouri involved in a shooting war with Iowa over a border dispute and issuing an order requiring all Mormons in Missouri to be driven out or exterminated. Boggs apparently didn't care for law and order much more than religious freedom. He vetoed a bill establishing a criminal court in St. Louis county. The veto was overridden. Criminal courts in St. Louis County remain in the news.
Sterling Price, a noteworthy governor who tried to keep Missouri in the Union, then became the general who led Confederate troops to victory at Wilson's Creek, vetoed a couple of bills in 1855 to fund private railroads in Missouri. He was overridden. Railroad bond defaults crippled the state's credit for the next century.
Between 1855 and 1976, not a single veto was overridden. This is partly due to machine politics, with governors' hands heavy on the levers. Further, before 1970, Missouri's Constitution did not provide for veto sessions. During this time, lawmakers convened every other year, and most legislation passed at the end-of-session rush. As a result, lawmakers simply did not meet again to override vetoes before a new General Assembly was elected.
In 1970, voters approved an amendment to establish annual legislative sessions and create a biennial veto session occurring in September at the end of each General Assembly. Lawmakers wasted little time in using the new sessions to push back against gubernatorial vetoes.
- 1976: The Democrat legislature override Republican Kit Bond's veto of a nursing regulation bill.
- 1980: The Democrat legislature overrode Gov. Joe Teasdale's veto of an appropriations bill to finance the Truman State Office Building.
- 1999: A bipartisan coalition of pro-life lawmakers overrode a veto by Gov. Mel Carnahan to ban certain late term abortions.
- 2003: Gov. Bob Holden faced a spate of overrides of bills to allow Missourians to get concealed-carry permits, establish a waiting period for abortions and to limit lawsuits against firearms manufacturers.
- 2011: Lawmakers overrode a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon to place redrawn congressional districts into effect.
- 2012: The legislature overrode a veto by Nixon of a bill that allowed companies to refuse to provide contraception in health plans.
This brought the state's total number of veto overrides through 2012 to 24 -- 23 regular bills and one appropriations bill -- during a period spanning 191 years of Missouri history.
In the last two years, with a super majority of Republicans and a Democratic governor, things have changed considerably.
In 2013 and 2014, lawmakers overrode the vetoes of 20 regular bills and 47 appropriation "line-item" vetoes.
This year, lawmakers have already overridden two vetoes during the regular 2015 session.
While the frequency of overrides has increased the role of overrides as political show, as much as substance, continues in fine Missouri tradition.
[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.]