Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed legislation dealing with international law Monday because of concerns that include a possible "chilling effect" for overseas adoptions.
The governor said the legislation raised "serious questions" about whether Missouri courts could consider foreign decrees or orders needed to complete overseas adoptions and could provoke foreign retaliation aimed at preventing Missourians from adopting children born in other countries.
Supporters of the measure said it would prevent Missouri courts from using foreign laws that clearly violate the state and U.S. constitutions. They said the measure is aimed at protecting Missourians' liberties and preventing the creeping in of foreign laws that violate the constitution. Opponents said the measure could have unintended consequences.
In a letter laying out his objections, Nixon said more than 5,000 children from other countries have been adopted by Missourians during the past decade.
"This legislation seeks to solve a problem that does not exist, while creating the very real problem of jeopardizing Missouri's families' ability to adopt children from foreign countries," Nixon wrote. "Here in Missouri, we believe in strengthening families and encouraging adoption. By placing additional barriers between couples who want to adopt and children who need loving homes, (the bill) is quite simply out of step with these basic values."
Nixon, a Democrat, said the legislation would have created "considerable uncertainty" in Missouri's legal system. He said it could cast doubt upon a variety of legal documents, including wills, trusts, marriage and divorce decrees and contracts that involve foreign law. The veto was not entirely unexpected. During a news conference last month, the governor included the bill in a category of "unnecessary things" approved by legislators.
Sen. Brian Nieves, who sponsored the legislation, said the reasons given for the veto "are clearly dishonest because they are simply not true." He said the legislation affects only foreign laws "repungnant" to the U.S. or Missouri constitutions.
Nieves, R-Washington, said there would be no effect upon international adoptions and called that argument a "ruse."
"Why don't they say that they are fearful that this bill would cause flying armadillos to invade the state of Missouri because either one of those lines of reasoning hold about the same amount of truth," he said. "This bill does not affect foreign adoptions."
The measure called for making void court, arbitration, tribunal or administrative agency decision based on any foreign law, legal code or system that is "repugnant" or "inconsistent" with the state and U.S. constitutions. Called the "Civil Liberties Defense Act," the legislation's first portion states Missouri shall protect citizens from the application of foreign laws when it would result in the violation of a constitutional right, including the right to due process, religion, speech, press and privacy.
Overriding Nixon's veto and enacting the legislation would require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate. The measure won supermajority support this year, passing the Senate 24-9 in April and clearing the House 109-41 last month. Nieves said Monday he has not decided whether to attempt an override.
Some adoption advocates had urged Nixon to veto the legislation, and the governor announced action at Lutheran Family and Children's Services.
The organization had voiced concerns that the legislation could prevent Missouri from recognizing an adoption decree completed in a child's home country and therefore create problems with obtaining a birth certificate in the U.S.
It also expressed apprehension about whether children who have been adopted would be affected.
Christine Corcoran, the Columbia-based director of regional operations for Lutheran Family and Children's Services, said the adoption concerns were preventative.
"We do understand that it was an unintended consequence," she said. "No one was thinking about adoption."