State Senate Republican leaders plan to attempt to override Governor Nixon’s veto of a bill to reduce unemployment benefits, but there are those who say they can’t.

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick watches as former House Speaker John Diehl, Junior, signs the override of Governor Jay Nixon's veto of Fitzpatrick's HB 150, reducing unemployment benefits in Missouri.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick watches as former House Speaker John Diehl, Junior, signs the override of Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of Fitzpatrick’s HB 150, reducing unemployment benefits in Missouri. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The state House voted to override the veto of the unemployment bill before the end of the regular legislative session, but in the Senate, Republicans used a procedural move to force a vote on “Right to Work” legislation. That led to the chamber’s Democrats blocking debate in the final three days.

Governor Jay Nixon (D) argues an attempt to override that veto had to be made before the end of the regular session.  Senator Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City) handled that bill in his chamber. He disagrees with Nixon.

“We believe the unemployment benefits bill is eligible for an override,” Kehoe told Missourinet. “‘B,’ we believe we have the votes. Our members have voted on that bill or very similar versions of that bill for two years in a row … we look forward to debating on that bill just a little bit and trying to get it up for a vote.”

Michael Wolff is the Dean of the Saint Louis University School of Law and a former Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court. He thinks the state Constitution clearly does not allow for that override to happen in this month’s veto session.

“I think that the Senate missed its opportunity when it didn’t vote on it during the regular session,” said Wolff.

Wolff said two sections of the Constitution establish that a bill vetoed before the final six days of the regular session must be acted on during that session. The governor vetoed the bill on May 5, ten days before the end of the regular session.

“I think it’s an interesting situation, and of course the question is whether a majority of the Supreme Court reads it the way I do. I can’t predict that,” said Wolff.

The issue could, indeed, eventually reach the Supreme Court. Kehoe acknowledged that if the Senate succeeds in overriding the veto, the override is likely to be challenged in the courts.

“I’ve seen opinions from very good attorneys on both sides of that issue,” said Kehoe. “If the courts or somebody wants to take it up there, I’m sure that’s what the courts are for and they’ll decide, if it goes to that step,” said Kehoe.

The bill would reduce the length of time a person could receive unemployment benefits to as few as 13 weeks depending on the state’s unemployment rate. The current length is 20 weeks.

Democrats opposed the legislations saying it would only harm Missourians who are already struggling. Governor Nixon, in his veto message in May, said there was no sound fiscal argument for the bill.

“Missouri’s unemployment insurance trust fund remains, and is projected to remain, financially sound,” said Nixon. “Therefore the changes sought by House Bill 150 are not needed, and their impact on both individuals and our economy are unfair and ill-advised.”

Republicans offering the bill said the state has had to borrow federal money when that fund has run dry, and said that has hurt Missouri businesses.

During House debate in May, Sponsor Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said that has hurt Missouri businesses.

“It makes employers less competitive across state lines to states that have better unemployment trust funds that work right,” said Fitzpatrick. “It just makes sense to make this thing solvent. It makes no sense to leave it the way it is right now.”

The veto session is September 16.