JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — Missouri's Republican-led Senate appears to have enough support to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a bill that would enact one of the nation's strictest limits for unemployment benefits.
Although the legality of the veto override remains in doubt, sponsoring Sen. Mike Kehoe confirmed this past week that he plans to press ahead with the effort, and several senators who were absent when the bill originally passed told The Associated Press that they would support the legislation.
If every senator who originally voted for the bill does so again, the additional votes from the previously absent senators would provide the two-thirds majority needed to successfully override a veto.
The measure would cut the weeks of benefits available for laid-off workers from the current 20, which already ranks as one of the shortest in the nation, to as few as 13, if the statewide unemployment rate remains below 6 percent. Missouri's jobless rate was 5.8 percent in July.
An unemployment rate of over 9 percent would be needed to receive 20 weeks of benefits under the vetoed bill that links the duration of benefits to the jobless rate.
The bill also would increase the amount that must be in the state's unemployment fund before the fees are lowered for businesses that contribute to the fund and would add severance pay or termination packages as wages for unemployment aid eligibility purposes.
The House in May took the first step to undo Nixon's action, approving a veto override with the bare minimum 109-53 vote. But the Senate never got to a vote for an override before the end of the regular session that month. That left the unemployment benefits bill in the middle of a constitutional question of whether the Senate missed its legal chance to also attempt an override vote or if the chamber can take the bill up when the convene Sept. 16 to consider overriding other vetoed bills.
Nixon contends it's too late for the Senate to act. Former Missouri Chief Justice Michael Wolff, now dean of the Saint Louis University School of Law, told The Associated Press in May that he also believes the Senate has missed its constitutional window to act. But Kehoe's effort to override the veto is backed by Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, of Joplin, who said he also wants to enact the bill.
Supporters say the changes would strengthen the state's unemployment system and make sure it is solvent in the future.
Nixon called the legislation "unnecessary and unfair" in a veto letter to the Legislature.
The unemployment legislation wasn't approved by a two-thirds majority when it was initially passed by the Senate in a party-line vote. But four Republican lawmakers were absent that day. Three of those — Sens. Ed Emery of Lamar, Dave Schatz of Sullivan and Eric Schmitt of St. Louis — told the AP they back the legislation. Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican, did not return an AP request for comment but voted in favor of a similar bill in 2014.
Not counting Silvey and Republican Sen. Tom Dempsey of St. Charles, who resigned in July, supporters of the bill come in at 23 — the amount needed to enact it into law. That's a tight margin, meaning the GOP cannot afford to have more than one of its members be gone or vote against the override in September.