Veto session in the Missouri Legislature is often uneventful, and even more so with the governor belonging to the same party as the majority in both chambers of the Legislature. This year was relatively uneventful. But it was loud.
The Missouri Constitution requires us to convene in September and reconsider any bills that the governor has vetoed. This year, four bills were vetoed outright, and 11 line items were struck from the fiscal year 2022 operating budget. This is not unusual. Typically, due to unforeseen issues or simply because the governor has a problem with some piece of a bill, a few bills get vetoed every year. Last year, one bill was vetoed and several line items were struck from the budget. In 2019, two bills were vetoed. It happens.
None of the vetoes were overturned in 2019 or 2020, and again none were overturned this year. Instead, the Senate heard a lot of raised voices and foot-stomping over procedure. It is the longstanding tradition of the Senate that only a bill's handler makes the motion to override a veto. This year, that longstanding tradition upset some members of the Senate, and we spent hours listening to speeches.
Speeches are a fact of life in the General Assembly's upper chamber. Senators, perhaps more than anyone, love to talk, and the Senate floor affords them a platform to do that as long as they can remain standing. In 2007, a single senator talked for 17 hours straight, attempting to block a gubernatorial appointment. In 2016, four senators spoke for 39 hours in an attempt to stop a bill. In 1991, a Senate debate lasted for 38 hours straight over abortion legislation. Senators like to talk.
Unfortunately, the talk Wednesday wasn't focused much on policy or legislation. It was an argument about procedure, the legislative equivalent of marching out of the dugout and kicking dirt on the legs of an umpire. The Senate is supposed to be the chamber of decorum and respect. On Wednesday, we were not. Wednesday we listened to members yelling, talking about "tyranny," calling each other "children" and referring to the proceedings as a "clown show." Frankly, it was embarrassing.
There are a lot of factors at play in why the decorum keeps breaking down. I think personal disagreements, inexperience, passionate beliefs and valuing the ends over the means are all part of it. A lot of people in the Senate are considering running for higher office, some potentially against each other. That naturally causes conflict and will likely continue to cause more in next year's session. None of that excuses the behavior the Senate has displayed.
Every once in a while I look up in the gallery and see kids watching us. Joe DiMaggio once said "There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best." It is shameful to think of kids watching the Senate operate like it did.
We owe the kids watching us our best. We owe the people who elected us to office our best. Anyone that watched the Senate for the first time on Wednesday did not see our best, not even close. We have to do better.
State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, represents Missouri's 6th District and shares his perspective on statehouse issues twice a month.