By Kurt Erickson and Celeste Bott
Republicans used their legislative muscle Wednesday to loosen state gun laws and require people to present photo identification when they head to the polls.
On a day dedicated to considering bills that were vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, the GOP used its wide majorities in the House and Senate to hand the governor and his Democratic allies two high-profile defeats as he winds down his political career.
The gun legislation was among the most contentious of 20 vetoes the term-limited chief executive handed down earlier this year. Republicans also overrode the governor on a bill requiring Missourians to present a photo ID before voting, as well as on legislation offering tax breaks to yoga and dance studios and allowing Medicaid providers to charge fees when patients miss doctor's appointments.
They failed, however, to take action on several vetoes, leaving the sponsors to retool their proposals in hopes of moving them through the Legislature when the next session starts in January.
The gun measure eliminates permit requirements to conceal and carry a firearm, and Democrats expressed fear that the bill would put weapons in the hands of those who were previously denied permits.
The override of Nixon's veto of the gun measure was approved on a party line 24-6 vote. Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, who spoke against the bill during debate, was not in the chamber when the vote was called after two hours of debate.
In the House, the veto was overridden on a 112-41 vote.
The sweeping gun package also includes a lifetime concealed carry permit and added provisions for a "stand your ground" law in Missouri, giving people the legal right to defend themselves if they feel threatened. Those provisions go into effect in 30 days.
The permit-less concealed carry provision goes into effect on Jan. 1.
Nixon has said the bill would make the state less safe by taking power away from local law enforcement, who under current law issue permits to citizens who have completed a firearm safety training course and passed a background check.
Getting weapons without training raised a red flag even for gun-friendly Democrats.
"I don't think it's a burden to take an eight-hour course to understand the dos and the don'ts, the shoulds and the shouldn'ts, of carrying a loaded firearm," said Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, who waved his own concealed carry permit while speaking on the Senate floor.
St. Louis lawmakers said the lack of training would make the city more dangerous.
"We're putting citizens in the place of law enforcement who have training and skills and experience," said Rep. Kim Gardner, a Democrat who is set to become the next St. Louis circuit attorney.
Sponsoring Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, said the bill would give law-abiding Missourians the right to conceal and carry in places that already allow permitless open carry. It will take effect in 2017.
Lawmakers also overrode Nixon's veto of a bill requiring Missourians to present photo identification before voting.
As is the case for similar laws around the country, the proposal is reflective of a broader ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans on voter access. GOP lawmakers argue the bill would prevent voter fraud, but their Democratic colleagues said it was an expensive solution in search of a problem.
But recent problems with absentee ballots in the St. Louis-based 78th House District served as fuel for supporters of the proposal in both chambers, who pointed to the revelations of absentee ballot problems in the Aug. 2 election as evidence that voters should prove their identity before casting votes.
"I couldn't even tell you who the candidates are. I don't know, but there's obviously a problem," said Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield.
Sponsoring Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit, said the measure would prevent impersonation at the polls and encouraged his colleagues to vote for an override after seeing "these injustices happening in our election cycle."
In the House, the measure was approved 115-41.
Democrats skewered the proposal as a Republican initiative designed to suppress minority votes.
"This bill, in my belief, is a definite step backwards. What we should be promoting is inclusion and activism for all people," Chappelle-Nadal said.
The measure is tied to a voter referendum in which voters in November will be asked to weigh in on the proposal's constitutionality. The bill lawmakers approved Wednesday lays out how the system would be implemented if voters approve the plan. If approved by voters, the requirement goes into effect in 2017.
After more than two hours of debate, Republicans used a procedural maneuver to end debate and vote on the bill. Nixon's veto was overridden with a 24-7 vote.
Over Democratic objections, lawmakers overrode Nixon's veto of Senate Bill 608, which would impose new penalties and fees on low-income families, the aged, blind and disabled who participate in Medicaid. Key among the charges would be a late fee for patients who miss medical appointments.
With little comment, the House and Senate overrode Nixon's veto of legislation that would give yoga studios and dance classes tax breaks.
Under the new law, exercise-related classes will be exempt from state sales taxes. The governor warned that the maneuver would cost millions of dollars in lost revenue.
The measure moved through the House on a 124-31 vote and a 29-2 vote in the Senate.
In other action, the House failed to override Nixon on his veto of a measure that would allow trucking companies to test special technology to reduce fuel costs.
Under House Bill 1733, trucking firms would have been able to use a wireless system to tether two trucks together. Nixon said the experiment would be dangerous to other motorists.
The day began with a moment of protest when Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, stayed in her seat when the Senate recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
Nasheed said she staged a protest in solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial oppression in the United States.
"The Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem stand not just for what America is, but for what it should be," Nasheed said in a statement Wednesday.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, issued a statement saying he was saddened by Nasheed's choice to sit during because the pledge represented unity.
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