JEFFERSON CITY — An effort to impeach Gov. Jay Nixon regarding his decision to allow same-sex couples to file joint tax returns received its first public hearing Wednesday in a House committee.
The Republican-led panel held a hearing on a resolution that would formally charge the Democratic governor with neglecting his official duties for issuing an executive order permitting gay couples who were legally married in other states to file combined Missouri income tax returns. But with less than four weeks remaining in the legislature's session, the impeachment attempts are unlikely to advance much further.
Two other gubernatorial impeachment resolutions were on Wednesday's schedule, but neither was considered because the panel ran out of time. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, said the hearing would resume next week and no potential votes would be held until after it concludes.
The impeachment resolution heard Wednesday is sponsored by eight Republican House members; none are chamber leaders. Sponsoring Rep. Nick Marshall said Nixon purposefully ignored a provision in the Missouri Constitution that recognizes marriages only between a man and a woman.
"He usurped the people and their authority to determine their constitution and their restraints on their government," said Marshall, R-Parkville.
Missouri in 2004 became the first state to enact a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage after the Massachusetts high court permitted gay marriage there. The measure was approved by 70 percent of the vote.
Nixon described the impeachment hearings Tuesday as "some sort of show" that didn't appear to be serious. He defended his November decision to direct state tax officials to accept joint tax returns for legally married gay couples, noting that Missouri's tax code is tied to the federal government, which is now accepting such tax returns.
Democratic committee members said the issue should be determined by the courts before the legislature considers possible impeachment.
"This is a disagreement in legal theory, which shouldn't be an impeachable offense," said Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis.
Earlier this month, a Cole County judge denied a request for a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit challenging Nixon's directive.
Some Republicans also expressed caution that impeachment was the appropriate action. Cox asked Marshall to consider other remedies, and Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa, said lawmakers could trust the courts to rule on the issue.
For Nixon to be removed from office, the Judiciary Committee and the full House would need to adopt one of the articles of impeachment. The Senate then would need to select a panel of "eminent jurists," who would try the case and determine whether removal was warranted.
The Missouri Constitution allows elected officials to be impeached for "crimes, misconduct, habitual drunkenness, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude or oppression in office."
Former Secretary of State Judy Moriarty was the last state official to be impeached and removed from office in 1994, when she was convicted of backdating her son's candidate-filing paperwork.