The top headline for the month of September was the annual veto session held in Jefferson City on September 15. Lawmakers returned to the Capitol as mandated by the constitution and attempted to override several vetoes issued by Governor Mike Parson on bills from the last regular session. Of the sixteen vetoes issued by the Governor, the General Assembly attempted several overrides. Although four override attempts passed easily in the House, that was not the case in the upper chamber and in the end, all the vetoes issues earlier this year by Governor Parson will stand.
Tempers flared and finger pointing occurred in a showdown between Republicans. At the center of the controversy was whether a Senator could make an override motion on a bill he or she did not sponsor or handle. Senator Mike Moon (R-Lawrence County) attempted to seek recognition to override a veto on one of the budget bills. Lt. Governor Mike Kehoe, who presides over the Senate, would not recognize Moon for the motion. Senate rules do not address who can make a motion for an override, but Senate tradition held that only the sponsor can make the motion, which in this case was, Senator Dan Hegeman (R-Andrew County). Several hours of heated debate ensued, pitting members of the Conservative Caucus against more traditional Republicans. In the end, and in an effort to keep peace in the chamber, Hegeman made the override motion, but it failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority to pass. Many Capitol observers believe the infighting between Republicans will spill over into the next regular session which begins in January.
While lawmakers were gathered in Jefferson City for veto session, Republican House members took advantage of the opportunity to select their next speaker of the House. Representative Dean Plocher was unanimously chosen by his colleagues to lead the chamber beginning in January of 2023 after current Speaker, Rep. Rob Vescovo terms out. Plocher must still be approved by the full body, but the result is a foregone conclusion since the Republicans continue to hold a super majority. Plocher represents House District 89 in St. Louis County. The district encompasses Town and Country, Des Peres, Frontenac, and surrounding areas. He currently serves as majority floor leader and will continue in that role until 2023.
Aside from the controversy in the Senate during veto session, another battle continued to brew in the Capitol, but this time it was in the state museum. The museum, housed on the first floor of the Capitol building, is operated by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). On September 1, several Republican state representatives and at least one staff member inquired of the DNR, as to the reason for a gay rights banner and a LGBTQ exhibit in the state museum. The exhibit, “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights,” had been scheduled to be in the Capitol from the end of August through December. It was removed shortly after the complaints were received and relocated to a museum in the Lohman Building, which sits next to the Capitol. The move angered Senator Greg Razer (D-Kansas City), who is the only openly gay member of the Senate and also garnered national attention. A spokesperson for DNR stated the display was removed because the Board of Public Buildings, who oversees displays in the Capitol museum, had not approved the exhibit. Senator Razer and other Democrats pointed out that other exhibits in the museum have also not been pre-approved, but they continue to be on display.
Last year the Governor called multiple special sessions in between the 2020 and 2021 legislative sessions. Since the 2021 Legislative Session ended in mid-May, many legislators called on Governor Mike Parson to continue that trend and call special sessions on various topics during the interim. The most recent request from several Republican legislators has been for a special session to deal with the vaccine mandate recently announced by President Biden. Despite these requests, we do not expect the Governor will call a special session to address the vaccine mandate or any other topic. Should the state desire to challenge the vaccine mandate, that will need to be done in the courts as legislative action cannot overturn federal mandate. As far as the other topics the Governor has received requests for special session, those will likely be addressed during the regular 2022 legislative session that begins in January.
Next on the political agenda is the Senate Republican Caucus, to be held in Branson from November 9th through the 11th. Until then, senators and representatives will be in their home districts as they prepare their legislative agenda for the next regular session which begins in January. Prefiling of legislation for the 2022 session will begin on December 1.