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TODAY'S QUESTION: Did Nixon overstep by declaring portion of legislation unconstitutional?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:09 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill last week and immediately declared part of it unconstitutional and said he wouldn’t follow it.

The legislation signed by Nixon would direct the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to modify the state’s school funding formula to spare one-quarter of school districts from cuts instead of dividing the $43 million shortfall among all the districts.

Nixon’s office told The Associated Press that precedent was set in 1926 and 1999 when the Missouri Supreme Court and a state appeals court respectively said it would be unconstitutional for lawmakers to use an appropriations bill to change a state law.

While “signing statements” are a tactic that U.S. presidents have used, most recently Barack Obama, it is unprecedented among recent Missouri governors.

State lawmakers are vocal about their disagreement with Nixon’s actions. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, called the decision an “unprecedented power grab” and Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, called it “tyranny.”

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, has met with an attorney to figure out the best way to challenge Nixon’s actions.

Did Nixon overstep by declaring a portion of legislation unconstitutional?


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Comments

Noah Hartsfield April 20, 2010 | 1:43 a.m.

I don't claim to be a state legal expert, but it seems to me that Nixon should have some authority to not enforce a law he has a significant problem with on constitutional grounds. However, beyond that I think Nixon did the right thing for several other reasons.

1.) All too often in our government today (both federal and state) we get into battles over one small portion of a large bill, and everything else contained in the bill suffers. I applaud Nixon for not vetoing the entire bill because he has concerns about one small part.

2.) I applaud Nixon for being up-front, honest, and open about his intentions and reasons. You may or may not agree with the decision, but in an age were legislatures will refuse to fund executive initiatives that they don't like, and executives will secretly override legislatures, Nixon could have quietly instructed the Department of Ed to ignore that portion of the bill and no one would be the wiser until months or years later. I think it is commendable that Nixon is being honest with his opposition, instead of using some back-room technique.

Because this is all being done out in the open, we can have a civil and open discourse about how to proceed. It seems to me that the next step is for Attorney General Koster to evaluate whether Nixon has the power to do so or not, and proceed with a court proceeding if it is deemed necessary. But I think all of the reactions about "tyranny" and "destroying the foundation of our state" are a gross exaggeration. As I previously stated, Nixon could have quietly opposed this measure as is all to often done across this country, or vetoed a large bill because of it. To openly oppose the measure means we can evaluate the issue, and move on.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush April 20, 2010 | 9:12 a.m.

Noah - well said! Of course the Governor's office knew what it was doing. I believe he fully intends to provoke a lawsuit. Furthermore, the Assembly knew what it was doing as well - passing appropriation legislation with unconstitutional provisions.
This is an attempt at skulduggery of the highest order from the Assembly. Their use of inflammatory hyperbole, further weakens their flimsy protests and dissolves any credibility.
"The Assembly doth protest too much, methinks." (with apologies to Wm. Shakespeare).
I'm grateful someone in the City of Jefferson is going about the people's business.

(Report Comment)

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