Missouri Veto Sessions: Power and Politics
Missouri lawmakers will convene in veto session Sept. 16, under a process that balances power between the state's legislative and executive branches of government. Vetoes date to the 6th century B.C. when instituted in Rome to empower tribunes to protect plebs against patricians who dominated the senate.
The U.S. Constitution authorizes presidents to veto measures and empowers both houses of Congress to override those vetoes with a two-thirds vote. It directs approved bills to be presented to the president. He may sign the bill into law, return it with his objections to the chamber where it originated or simply take no action, resulting in a "pocket" veto. Action on the bills, whether veto or approval, must be taken within 10 days, Sundays excepted.
This 10-day language, including the Sunday exception, was carried into Missouri's earliest constitution, which voters approved in 1820 as part of attaining statehood. It was continued in 1865, when Drake's Constitution stood for a dark, 10-year period of loyalty oaths and reparations against former southern sympathizers.
Under the 1820 constitution, the Legislature convened in November. Bills passed by lawmakers had to be sent to the governor for his "approbation." If he objected, the bills could be returned and a simple majority of lawmakers in both houses could vote to override these vetoes. The constitution of 1865 used the same approach. Neither constitution established a separate veto session.
The Constitution of 1875 moved legislative sessions to January of every-other year and continued the 10-day window for governors to sign or veto passed bills sent to him during sessions. After session adjournment, the governor was allowed 30 days to sign or veto bills. If a vetoed bill was returned, this constitution established a two-thirds majority to override a veto. If it wasn't returned at all, lawmakers could pass a resolution placing it into effect.
Rather than a veto session, the constitution provided the Legislature could override vetoes "at its convenience." Lawmakers apparently never found veto overrides to be that convenient. No bill vetoed by any governor was ever overridden under the 1875 constitution.
Voters adopted Missouri's current constitution in February 1945. It continued biennial sessions beginning in January, with General Assemblies standing for a two-year period that began in odd-numbered years.
In November 1970, voters adopted Amendment 1, which created annual legislative sessions. For the first time, this constitution also established a veto session, but only one, occurring in September at the end of the two-year General Assembly. Thus, a vetoed bill from the first session wouldn't be considered for veto override for more than a year, after the September following the next legislative session.
The 1945 constitution expanded the period in which the governor could act on bills during session to 15 days and after adjournment to 45 days. Missouri governors had the power of pocket veto until voters approved Amendment 2 on Aug. 5, 1986. Now, bills passed by lawmakers and sent to the governor that aren't vetoed or signed into law within 15 days during session or 45 days after adjournment become law in Missouri.
On Nov. 8, 1988, voters adopted Amendment 1, which equalized the length of annual legislative session and established annual veto sessions in September, lasting for a period of no more than 10 days.
This is Missouri's law today. Governors have longer to review, sign or veto bills both during and after legislative sessions; lawmakers must secure a higher majority to override vetoes. Sessions to pass bills and override vetoes are held annually. And, unlike presidents, Missouri governors no longer have the power of the pocket veto.
Throughout almost two centuries of evolution toward this more precise and carefully defined system of laws, the purpose of vetoes and overrides remains unchanged: to carefully balance the power of government between the votes of lawmakers and the pen points of Missouri governors.
After a career in journalism, Mark Hughes became a top, non-partisan policy analyst for Missouri government including the state Senate, state Treasurer's Office and the utility-regulating PSC. He has been an observer and analyst of state government since the administration of Gov. Kit Bond.