Mo. Senate takes steps to curb governor’s power

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri senators said they were sending a message to Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday when they blocked an appointment to a state board and passed legislation to limit some of his powers to fill government vacancies.

They want the governor to work with them. And to get their point across, the Republican-led Senate refused to allow Nixon to withdraw the appointment of Kansas City lawyer Tim Dollar to the Conservation Commission. The action prevents Dollar from ever serving on the state board.

Nixon was asking to withdraw Dollar because time had run out on the Senate to act on his appointment. Had the Senate granted Nixon’s request, Dollar could have been reappointed to the board.

“We are trying to restore power to the Legislature,” said Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah. “We are sending a very clear message.”

Minutes after blocking Dollar, the Senate passed legislation 27-5 that would limit the amount of time temporary leaders can head state agencies and would force the governor to call a special election to fill vacant seats in the Legislature within 30 days.

Dollar’s appointment ran into trouble with some Senate Republicans who said the governor had violated an agreement with lawmakers to appoint a commissioner from northern Missouri to the four-member board.

“We’ve got trust in this building. When you say you are going to do something then you do it,” said Sen. Brian Munzlinger, a northeastern Missouri Republican. “This is squarely on the shoulder of the governor because he could have fixed this.”

A spokesman for Nixon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A voice message with Dollar was not immediately returned.

Senate Democrats and a few Republicans objected to giving Dollar a lifetime ban from serving on the Conservation Commission. Democrats said they were worried about the precedent it would set. Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, compared the action to a drive-by shooting and called Dollar a “sacrificial lamb.”

“We are blocking him for a lifetime of something that he enjoys and that I think he would do a good job on, later in life,” said Dollar’s Senate sponsor Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit.

Frustration over communication lines with the governor was also the impetus behind the legislation to limit how and when the governor can fill vacant positions throughout state government.

Under the measure, an acting director could lead an agency for no more than 120 days. Two executive departments currently lack a permanent director. Nixon has said previously that it takes time to find the right people for cabinet-level government positions.

The elections part of the bill was similarly brought on by frustration with Nixon. When lawmakers began their session in January, Nixon had not yet called a special election for a House seat that had been vacant since June. Earlier this month, Nixon set that election date along with two other House vacancies for August 2014.

The Senate also passed a constitutional amendment that would allow the lieutenant governor to fill vacancies in state boards and departments if the governor doesn’t within 90 days.

Both the amendment and the vacancy legislation now head to the House and would also require voter approval to take effect.

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