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Missouri lawmakers ready to revive bills vetoed by Nixon

Missouri lawmakers ready to revive bills vetoed by Nixon

February 12th, 2012 in News

Pass. Veto. Repeat.

Missouri Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon appear headed for a repeat of their fight over changes to the state's workplace discrimination laws and a requirement for voters to show a photo ID at the polls.

The Legislature passed both measures last year, but Nixon vetoed them. Now, lawmakers rapidly are moving to approve similar bills, and Nixon says his mind has not changed.

And so starts what could be a repeat performance: Republicans use their dominance in the House and Senate to pass bills that Nixon vetoes while trusting that House leaders won't be able to pluck off the minimum of three Democratic votes necessary to override the veto.

The House and Senate each approved their own versions of the employment discrimination measure last week, while House members also endorsed a voter ID bill. Nixon told members of The Associated Press and the Missouri Press Association during their annual Capitol media event that his position on those issues hasn't changed. He said Missouri's workforce is becoming more diverse, and employees need to be confident they'll be protected against discrimination.

"I just think that going backward in that is the wrong signal to send to the world," Nixon said. But he added he would review any legislation that passed before deciding whether to sign or veto it.

Republican legislative leaders expressed hope that more discussion would lead to a bill Nixon would sign.

"This bill is about putting in place good public policy for the state of Missouri, for business, industry and employees," said Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter. "This is not an effort or process to make a point. What we're trying to do is implement this law and the public policy."

In both instances, the legislation under consideration this year is similar to last year's version.

The workplace discrimination measure would require workers who bring wrongful termination lawsuits to prove discrimination was a "motivating factor" and not just a contributing factor. It also would link the punitive damages victims can recover to a company's number of employees, with a maximum award of $300,000. Republicans say the changes align Missouri employment discrimination laws with existing federal protections and would improve the state's business climate. Democrats contend it would roll back decades of civil rights progress aimed at protecting workers from unfair treatment.

The voter ID legislation would require people to show a valid driver's license or other government-issued ID that has their picture. People who don't have that type of ID could cast provisional ballots after signing an affidavit that they could not obtain a photo ID because they could not afford the supporting documentation, were disabled, had religious beliefs against it or were born before 1941. Republican supporters say it is a commonsense defense against voter fraud, while Democrats argue voter impersonation is rare and the legislation could make voting harder for some people.

House Speaker Steven Tilley said while there are ups and downs to revisiting bills that already have been vetoed, the photo ID measure warrants attention.

"I think the citizens of the state think it's important, and we do as well," said Tilley, R-Perryville.

But politics, as well as policy disagreements, appear to be playing a role.

A clash between Republicans and Democrats over a voter photo ID requirement has become a regular occurrence at the state Capitol. Republican legislators in 2006 passed a photo ID requirement that was signed into law by Republican then-Gov. Matt Blunt. However, the Missouri Supreme Court later struck it down as unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, Nixon made much of his opposition to the workplace discrimination legislation last year, announcing his veto at a rally in St. Louis instead of in a more typical statement. The governor delivered his speech from the Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott trial on slavery was held.

At the same time, Republicans have criticized Nixon over economic development and job creation heading into the November elections.

Sen. Brad Lager, who has sponsored his chamber's version of the workplace legislation for the past two years, criticized Nixon as "absent" on the issue.

"Just like he has on everything else around here," said Lager, a Savannah Republican who is running for lieutenant governor. "That's not a guy who wants good public policy. This is a guy who's playing politics."

Lawmakers have numerous opportunities to tweak the workplace discrimination bill and the voter ID measures before their mandatory adjournment in mid-May. That gives the Legislature and Nixon plenty of time to find consensus. Otherwise, Missouri officials could have a case of deja vu when lawmakers return to the state Capitol in September for the annual session to consider overriding the governor's vetoes.