In this episode of Talking Politics, Professor Mark Horvit explains what’s in store for Missouri lawmakers as they meet for their annual veto session this week. Mark Horvit is a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and leads the school’s state government reporting program.
Of all the vetoed bills, one of the most talked about is a measure that would fix funding cuts to in-home and nursing home care for seniors.
This interview has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.
Start us off with the path this bill has taken: from the proposed budget to where we are now.
So, basically, when Gov. Greitens introduced his proposed budget in January of last year. He had proposed cutting quite a bit of money in home health care to predominantly seniors. It's a way to try to get health care costs down. A number of lawmakers felt the cuts were too significant and so there was a lot of talk throughout the session in various proposals on how to reduce the cut that was going to take place.
At the end of the session there were a couple of efforts to try and find the money to reduce those cuts. The first effort involved something called the circuit breaker which is a sort of poorly named tax break for seniors who rent. The criticism against using that as a funding source is that you're just taking money from one set of seniors and giving it to another set of seniors, and a lot of people felt that that wasn't a really good solution.
So, instead, at the very last minute in the closing hours really of the session, they came up with a compromise to something they call sweeping which really just means looking at a number of state funds where there's money and sweeping or taking chunks of it and using it for this purpose. They passed that by a fairly tight margin in the House. They passed it. But it got to the governor and the governor and his team took a look at it and determined that it didn't really meet the smell test, I suppose. It was taking too many liberties with money that was designated for other purposes and not necessarily having those decisions in the right way. So the governor vetoed it.
Now, what happens is in the veto session, which takes place annually, they have the option of attempting to override the governor's veto meaning that effort to sweep the money would be put back into place and would occur.
However the bar for passing that is fairly high and it is not remotely clear if they would have the votes in a Republican majority to override a Republican governor's veto.
What are the options now for lawmakers to find funding?
Well, that's a really good question. The first two month's of this year's fiscal year—the state's financial year—have gone well enough. In conversations that our reporters have had with budget officers, they're not predicting a lot of extra money this year. So it doesn't look like there is going to be money lying around that anybody could take to dedicate to this. So, where exactly they'd find that funding is really unclear and that's the big question right?
They've already tried two attempts: one of which they couldn't get past in the House and the Senate the other of which the governor slapped down. Is either of those options fixable and revivable? Is there a third option out there? The state has been very, very tight on money and that's a lot of money they'd have to find in a pretty quick time.
There's also talk of a special session. Can you explain what that is and the likelihood that could happen?
The only action they could take in the veto session is to override the governors veto, reinstating the piece of legislation that he stopped. If they want to try to do anything else, that can't be done in a veto session. It would have to be done in a what they call a special session.
There were two of those this summer that Gov. Greitens called and typically when (special) sessions get called it's the governor who does it. That's the cleanest, simplest method. What it does is normally the Missouri Legislature only meets once a year from January to mid-May. To meet any other time they have to be called back into special session. Gov. Greitens, through his spokesperson, said he is not going to call them back into session this time, meaning they would to have to do something that has never happened before. Lawmakers would have to call themselves back into special session. That requires a 75 percent vote of both the House and the Senate which is a pretty high bar.
So, if they're going to do anything that's what they'd do. Then if they do, they have up to a month to get new legislation through the system. It would have to do all the the things it would have to do in a regular session. They have to propose legislation, it has to go to committee, the committees have to vote it out, it has to get through both the House and the Senate. So, it's not clear a) if they can get the votes to hold the session, b) if they have a viable solution to propose if they do and c) if it's something that everybody would agree to support.
What is the likelihood that they will get the votes to call a special session?
You could argue that in some ways that trying to come up with a new solution would be less objectionable to some Republicans perhaps than overriding the governor's veto because he's also a Republican.
Some of the questions the governor brought up about this current solution in (this bill) are legal, and it's very likely that there are legal problems with that piece of legislation, which is why the governor vetoed it in the first place. So I think there's some thought that starting fresh would be cleaner and perhaps easier to get through...the general assembly. But first, they have to have the votes to even go into session to do it in the first place.
One other thing that not a lot of people are talking about is that these special sessions are not free. They've already held two of them and holding a third one would cost even more money at a time when the state budget is pretty tight, and they're trying to find more money to solve this healthcare problem in the first place.