The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 24, 2013

Kevin Wilson, guest columnist: Passing laws in Missouri Legislature a messy process

By Kevin Wilson
Special to The Globe

NEOSHO, Mo. — This year’s session of the Missouri General Assembly has come to an end, and for many around the state, that is a welcome event. There is a whole slew of folks who think we have way too many laws already, and they do have a point.

But there are people on the other side of that thought who think there should be even more laws than those already on the books.

The reality lies somewhere between those two viewpoints.  Truth be told, we have some laws that shouldn’t even exist, and there are some laws that still need to be written.  But that push and pull will exist for as long as we are a democratic republic. We  have to accept that no system is ever going to be perfect. What we do have works pretty darn well.

So now that the session is over, what laws were actually passed, and what are their implications for Missourians?  That’s an easier question to ask than it is to answer.

Quite frankly, no legislators can tell you at this point. For the average citizen, that may not seem right, but as a former member of the Missouri House, let me explain this to you.

The last week of every session — and specifically the last day — is a whirlwind of legislative activity. Bills are going back and forth between the House and the Senate. There are  conference committee reports and the ever unpopular omnibus bills with all sorts of goodies loaded on by various and sundry groups. Some legislators have no real idea what they are voting for — or against — while others are very diligent about making sure of the bill’s contents before pushing that voting button.

But regardless of the dedication level of the legislator, you cannot know how a bill has fared on the other side of the rotunda until days after the session has ended — there is just too much confusion.  A few days later, you can get a list of which bills made it through both chambers, but you still aren’t going to know which ones are going to make it into the statutes and which ones aren’t.

That’s because they still have one more hurdle to clear before becoming the law of the land — the governor’s office.

After a bill is passed by the Missouri General Assembly, the governor has 45 days from the end of the session to make a decision on what to do with the bill. He can sign it, veto it or do nothing, which means it will automatically be considered approved.  So that must mean that we will know which bills are now laws no later than 45 days after session is over.  

Not so quick. If the governor vetoes a bill then the Legislature has one more shot to make it a law — at the annual veto session held in September of each year.  The governor’s veto can be overridden if two-thirds of both the House and the Senate vote in favor.  Then the bill becomes a law.

If you think this is all pretty confusing and complicated, you would be right.  But that’s OK. It shouldn’t be too easy to pass a law that we are going to have to live with until someone decides he wants to repeal or change it.  And, most likely, that will never happen.  You would not believe some of the silly laws that are still on the books just because no one has taken the time and effort to go through the legislative process to repeal them.

I guess my whole point is to ask you not to be too hard on your legislators if they can’t tell you exactly which bills were passed and which ones weren’t and whether you now have a new law to follow.

It’s not because they aren’t dedicated and diligent, but rather all the hurdles may not yet be cleared.  

You may think that the process is pretty ugly, and it is. It has been said that making laws is like making sausage — you can’t stand watching the process but the end result is pretty good most of the time.

And, as ugly as it may be, it still beats the heck out of any other system in the world.