JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's Republican-led legislature has been in a rush to pass legislation relating to hogs, dogs, discrimination and redistricting.
The common characteristic of the four topics is that they carry some controversy — and thus are potential veto targets for Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. And Republican legislative leaders want to put themselves in the best possible position in case they wish to attempt a veto override.
The political jockeying may be for naught; Nixon has not indicated whether he is inclined to sign or veto any of the bills. Yet it provides insight into the perceived political advantages and disadvantages that can influence how lawmakers handle key pieces of legislation.
At the root of the veto positioning is a provision in the Missouri Constitution that sets a deadline for the legislature to end its annual session and a timeline for the governor to consider bills sent to his desk.
The final day for legislators to pass bills this year is May 13. The state constitution says the governor has 15 days to consider whether to sign or veto bills, unless the legislature has adjourned, when his clock is extended to 45 days. The practical effect is that if lawmakers want to attempt a veto override during their regular session, they must send legislation to the governor more than 15 days before their session ends. Otherwise, a veto override attempt must wait until their annual veto session in September.
Basic calendar math would put the bill-passage deadline for in-session veto consideration at April 27. If the legislature were to give final approval to a bill on that day, the governor would have until the end of May 12 to veto it, allowing legislators one day to attempt an override before their session ends. (They also could choose to wait until September to consider a veto override.)
But some Republican lawmakers have gone beyond normal math in an attempt to be super sure they have the option to consider an in-session veto override. Concerned about the potential for someone to interpret 15 days to mean 15 legislative working days, they have subtracted weekends, Fridays and the Monday after Easter (when lawmakers generally are not in session) to conclude that their earliest possible deadline for sending bills to Nixon is this Monday.
Thus it was that the legislature acted with urgency last week to give final approval to three controversial bills. One would overturn the expressed will of the voters by replacing key parts of the Puppy Mill Cruelty Act , known on the November ballot as Proposition B, that imposed stringent guidelines on dog breeders. Another would make it harder for people to win workplace discrimination lawsuits. And a third would limit the ability of neighbors to win large and repeated court judgments against hog farms for the foul odors they produce.
A fourth bill, which lawmakers still hope to pass soon, would redraw Missouri's nine congressional districts into eight based on the results of the 2010 census. The political stakes are especially high because at least one incumbent Congress member must get drawn into someone else's district. The unlucky target, under bills passed by each the House and Senate, is Democratic U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, whose home would be merged into the same St. Louis district as Democratic U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay.
Some Republican lawmakers would like to send Nixon a redistricting bill this week, preserving their right to try a quick veto override if necessary. An override requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber, and Republicans control more than two-thirds of the Senate seats. To secure that margin in the House, Republicans would need the support of a few Democrats.
But a key question remains. Why does it matter when lawmakers consider a veto override?
Republican Sen. Scott Rupp, chairman of that chamber's congressional redistricting committee, said the longer lawmakers wait to try a veto override the more time Nixon has to persuade legislators to back him.
"If you're term-limited out and looking for a job, the governor can dangle something in front of you," said Rupp, R-Wentzville, referring to the governor's power to make appointments to desirable government positions.
Added House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perryville: "We don't want to miss out on potentially overriding a veto just because the governor offers someone a job."
Left unsaid by legislative leaders is the fact that they, too, have greater leverage during a legislative session than during a veto session. For example, House and Senate leaders could either block or allow debate on unrelated legislation during the waning days of the session based on the sponsor's willingness to support a veto override.
As it relates to the redistricting legislation, Rep. John Diehl laid out a practical reason for resolving the matter sooner rather than later.
"If the governor would veto and we don't come back until September and we can't override the veto and there's a court case, there's not a map probably until January or February of 2012 for an election that occurs in November 2012," said Diehl, R-Town and Country, who is chairman of the House redistricting committee. "That creates a lot of havoc for everybody involved."
That scenario also involves a lot of hypotheticals.
Also plausible is another outcome. The legislature sends a bill to the governor, and the governor simply signs it into law.