Unemployment compensation bill voided by the Missouri Supreme Court

House Bill 150, a bill supported by Associated Industries of Missouri (AIM) that would lower the number of weeks of unemployment compensation during periods of low unemployment rates, was voided by the Missouri Supreme Court this week on a 4-3 vote. The bill was passed in 2015, vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon, and both the House and Senate voted to override Nixon’s veto.

Appellants Timothy S. Peska and Rudy M. Chavez argued that the bill violated Article III, Section 32 of the Missouri Constitution because of the timing of a vote overriding Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of the bill.

Article III, Section 32, of the Missouri Constitution states:

“if the governor returns any bill with his objections on or after the fifth day before the last day upon which a session of the general assembly may consider bills, the general assembly shall automatically reconvene [in September] . . . for the sole purpose of considering bills returned by the governor.”

The disagreement is over the legislative intent of Article III, Section 32: whether all vetoed bills may be reconsidered during a September veto session or if the section only allows reconsideration of bills that are vetoed late, meaning on or after the fifth day before the last day of session.

HB 150 was not a “late-vetoed” bill, but the September 2015 veto session was triggered by the veto of other bills within the last five days of the session. A plain reading of Article III, Section 32 suggests any bill, regardless of when it was vetoed, is fair to reconsider in the September veto session, so long as the veto session is triggered by one or more “late-vetoed” bills.

Judge Mary R. Russell states in her dissenting opinion of the reversal that “words used in constitutional provisions must be given their plain, ordinary, and natural meaning.” She argues that the Article III, Section 32 gives the General Assembly plenary power to override the Governor’s veto and that their vote was wholly constitutional.

A majority of the Supreme Court agreed with the appellants, however, noting that Article III, Section 32 has been amended several times and that the courts must take into the consideration the intent of the people who adopted those amendments. Instead of  following plain language overtly expressed in the Missouri Constitution, the Court voided the law.

“This opinion is another example of the Missouri Supreme Court issuing political opinions, rather than legal opinions,” said Ray McCarty, president/CEO of Associated Industries of Missouri. “The plain language of the Constitution is clear, as pointed out in the dissenting opinion of the Court – the veto was properly overridden and the bill should be law,” said McCarty.

To read article III, section 32 of the Missouri Constitution in its entirety, click here. To read the full opinion by the Missouri Supreme Court, click here.