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07 July 2011

Dempsey: Bills Passed by Legislature Await Action by Governor

Each year, the Missouri General Assembly meets in Jefferson City to consider issues facing the state and to craft legislative responses. The bills that are filed vary widely in terms of their impact and cost. Some proposals make broad changes to public policy and dramatically alter the laws relating to education policy, tax structures, criminal sanctions and a host of other topics. Other bills have a much smaller effect and concern matters such as conveying small parcels of state-owned land or designating a certain day or week as a time of public awareness about a particular issue.

Getting a bill passed is no easy task. As hundreds of bills vie for the limited time and attention of legislators, many are bottled up or defeated in committee and are never actually voted on. Others are voted down or run out of time waiting their turn to be debated before the full House or Senate. When the legislative session comes to a mandatory close each May as required by the Missouri Constitution, all bills not already passed automatically die.

This session, out of more than 1,400 bills filed, the General Assembly passed 149 of them (approximately 10 percent). This relatively low percentage of bills passed is not at all unusual, although the actual number may be misleading since bills containing similar topics are often merged.

Once a bill has passed both the Missouri House of Representatives and the Missouri Senate in the identical form, it is then sent to the governor for his signature. The governor has 45 days to review bills presented to him after the Legislature adjourns for the year (15 days if a bill is presented to him during the Legislative session). He can either sign these bills or veto them. If he does neither, the bill automatically becomes law as though it were signed.

This year, the governor has until July 14th to sign or veto the bills presented to him. So far, he has signed 71 bills and vetoed five others. Typically, once a bill is signed into law, it takes effect on August 28th of the same year. However, legislators are free to alter this typical rule by attaching an emergency clause (causing the bill to go into effect immediately) or by setting a later effective date. Certain pieces of legislation (joint resolutions passed by both chambers proposing changes to the Missouri Constitution) do not require the governor’s signature and go directly to the Secretary of State to be placed on the ballot for a public vote.

Legislators will be watching the events of the next few days closely to see what the governor does on several important pieces of legislation. Bills still in limbo at the time of this writing include measures that would protect the lives of viable unborn infants and allow drug screening for certain welfare recipients.

I always appreciate hearing from you. If you have any questions about the topics discussed above or any other issues, please do not hesitate to contact my office.

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