‘Right-to-work,’ minimum wage bills in focus as GOP aims to override Nixon

Gov. Jay Nixon spoke to a crowd during a Department of Conservation commission meeting at the Tiger Hotel in Columbia on July 8, 2014. Nixon announced the veto of two bills that would reclassify captive deer as livestock, which would transfer oversight of captive population to the state Department of Agriculture. | Austin Huguelet/Missouri Business Alert
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed 18 bills passed by the Republican-controlled Missouri Legislature this year. Several of those vetoes will be challenged Wednesday. | Austin Huguelet/Missouri Business Alert

Gov. Jay Nixon struck down 18 bills this year, vetoing legislation concerning critical issues that the Republican-controlled legislature had passed. The General Assembly gathers on Wednesday with GOP lawmakers looking to override a number of those vetoes.

Republicans dominate the General Assembly, holding the two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate needed to override the Democratic governor’s vetoes.

Though a number of bills will be addressed during the veto session, the one drawing the most attention is House Bill 116, the contentious “right-to-work” legislation. In addition, lawmakers say the General Assembly will likely hear:

  • House Bill 722, which would prevent municipalities from setting minimum wage and employment benefits laws that exceed federal or state requirements.
  • House Bill 150, which would cut the amount of time an individual could collect unemployment benefits to 13 weeks from 20 weeks.
  • House Bill 42, which would expand opportunities to virtual schools and public charter schools in Jackson and St. Louis counties.
  • Senate Bill 224, which prevents A+ scholarship funds going to students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Right to work

United Auto Workers (UAW) union members march in New York City in December 2014. | Courtesy of Thomas Altfather Good/Wikimedia Commons
The Missouri Legislature’s Democratic minority views the proposed right-to-work law as a threat to labor unions in the state. | Courtesy of Thomas Altfather Good/Wikimedia Commons

Many expect the heart of Wednesday’s debate to focus on House Bill 116, the right-to-work measure causing disagreement between and among the two parties. The bill will set the tone of the entire session, according to Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton.

“It’s going to be pretty bifurcated,” said Sifton, who opposed the bill, “the question of what the majority will do.”

The bill would ban the practice of requiring individuals to become union members or pay union dues as a condition of employment. Earlier this year, the measure passed in the House 92-66 and in the Senate 21-13. It would need an additional 17 votes in the House and two votes in the Senate to become law.

Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield | Courtesy of Eric Burlison/Twitter
Eric Burlison | Courtesy of Eric Burlison/Twitter

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, said he has “no idea” what to expect when it comes up for vote again on the House floor.

“Any time you’re going into a situation like this where you have to have two-thirds majority, there’s almost no room for errors,” Burlison said. “So, it’s going to be a difficult.”

Burlison said enacting right-to-work legislation would make Missouri more attractive to businesses. He pointed to Michigan and Indiana, both of which recently passed right-to-work laws, as proof of the bill’s economic impact.

“They went from the bottom of economic growth to being at the top of the list overnight,” he said. “It literally is a game changer for your state.”

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, said if the bill reaches the Senate, it will have the votes needed for an override. Republican senators will most likely use a “previous question” motion, which puts an end to debates and brings lawmakers to an immediate vote on the pending question, Kraus said. This motion is commonly used in the House, but it’s rarely deployed in the Senate. Republican senators used previous question to end a Democratic filibuster and pass the right-to-work bill in the final days of the legislative session this spring.

That strategy rankled Sifton and other Democrats. Sifton said he was “strongly opposed to the right-to-work legislation and opposed to the manner it was brought forward in the last week of session.”

Democrats in Missouri and across the country uniformly oppose the anti-union right-to-work legislation, and labor unions often contribute large sums to Democrats’ campaigns. Less than a week after Nixon vetoed the right-to-work bill, he received a $50,000 contribution from the United Automobile Workers, according to campaign finance documents.

Ray McCarty, president of Associated Industries of Missouri | Photo by Gwen Girsdansky
Ray McCarty | Gwen Girsdansky/Mo. Business Alert

Union membership in Missouri has declined significantly in recent years. Today, union members account for 8.4 percent of workers in the state – the lowest in recorded history, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1989, at the peak of union membership in Missouri, more than 15 percent of workers were associated with unions.

The Missouri AFL-CIO opposes the legislation, and the labor group has hosted multiple rallies since it was proposed.

Two of the state’s leading business lobbies, Associated Industries of Missouri and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, are among the supporters of the right-to-work bill. Both groups are pushing for an override of the veto.

“There are some companies that will only locate in right-to-work states. Because Missouri is not right-to-work now, we don’t even know what those opportunities are,” said Ray McCarty, the president and CEO of Associated Industries of Missouri. “We think that this is probably the biggest advantage that this is going to provide, that Missouri will again be on the list of those companies.”

Unemployment insurance

At the end of the legislative session in May, the House overturned Nixon’s veto of House Bill 150, which would reduce the amount of time an individual can receive unemployment insurance to 13 weeks from 20 weeks. Though the Senate did not attempt to override the veto in regular session, an initial vote was two shy of the number that would be needed for an override.

Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, who sponsored the bill, said he anticipates that the Senate will successfully reverse the governor’s decision.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit | Courtesy of senate.mo.gov
Will Kraus | Courtesy of senate.mo.gov

Even if the Senate gets enough votes to override the veto, there are some who say that would be illegal. The bill was successfully overridden in the House in May, but it did not clear the Senate, where Democrats blocked debate in the final days of session.

Nixon said the Senate had to act on the bill during session, and an attempt at an override would be unconstitutional. Michael Wolff, dean of the St. Louis University law school and former chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, agrees with Nixon.

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

Fitzpatrick and Kraus see things differently. Kraus said he thinks the Senate has “every legal right” to bring it up because lawmakers didn’t get the chance to overturn the veto during normal session.

Minimum wage

Fast-food workers demonstrated inside a St. Louis McDonald's on April 15 as part of the nationwide Fight for $15 movement. | Courtesy of Show Me 15/Facebook
Fast-food workers demonstrated at a St. Louis McDonald’s in April, calling for higher wages. St. Louis and Kansas City have since approved increases to their municipal minimum wages. | Courtesy of Show Me 15/Facebook

The Missouri Chamber and Associated Industries of Missouri also support overturning Nixon’s veto of House Bill 722, a measure that would bar municipalities from setting minimum wage and employment benefit requirements that exceed federal or state standards. The measure would also prevent cities from banning plastic shopping bags.

The House passed the measure 105-48, and the Senate passed it 24-10. Kraus said he believes the veto will be overridden.

Earlier this month, the Kansas City Council approved a resolution opposing the bill. Kansas City Mayor Sly James, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and other mayors from across the state also voiced their disapproval of the measure in a letter to state lawmakers, calling it a “misguided bill that interferes with local decisions.”

Kansas City and St. Louis have both passed measures in recent months to increase the local minimum wage, phasing in wage floors of $13 by 2020 and $11 by 2018, respectively. Both increases are facing legal challenges.

A+ Scholarship funds

It is likely that Senate Bill 224, a measure that would prevent students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents from receiving A+ scholarship funds, will make it to the floor on Wednesday.

Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob | Courtesy of Scott Fitzpatrick/Twitter
Scott Fitzpatrick | Courtesy of Scott Fitzpatrick/Twitter

“It’s an underfunded scholarship program,” said Fitzpatrick, who sponsored equivalent legislation in the House, said. “And I don’t think that rewarding illegal immigration with free college is something we should be doing.”

If it is overridden in the Senate, Fitzpatrick said he is “positive we have the votes in the House.” During regular session, the House passed the measure 108-38, and the Senate passed it 25-8.

The Missouri Department of Higher Education extended the scholarship funds to non-U.S. citizens without a vote of the legislature, Fitzpatrick said. Last year, there were only enough funds to cover 14 of the 15 hours of credit that the scholarship pledged, Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, said.

“That’s really shorting our promise to those students who went through the program,” Wood said.

School transfers

Nixon vetoed a student transfer law for a second year in a row. It appears unlikely that House Bill 42, which would expand opportunities to virtual schools and public charter schools in Jackson and St. Louis counties, will have enough backing for an override.

Wood, the bill’s sponsor, said he was “positive” the House would not get the 109 votes required to override. The body originally passed the bill 84-73.

Other measures

Other bills that could be debated in the Legislature on Wednesday include:

  • Senate Bill 20, which would exempt commercial laundries from paying state and local sales tax. Kraus, the bill’s sponsor, said this will be the first measure to be brought up during the session and he thinks there are enough votes to make it law.
  • House Bill 1098, which would change the laws regarding trust companies and would ease rules for out-of-state trust companies to operate in Missouri. The House passed the measure 137-4, and the Senate voted unanimously to approve it during the regular legislative session.

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