Veto Session: Veto upheld on Agenda 21 bill with ambiguous language threatening bike/ped nonprofits

The 2013 Missouri legislative session wrapped up yesterday after a two-day veto session.

This year, Governor Nixon vetoed a record number of bills and the General Assembly overrode a record number of vetos--but upheld some key vetos as well.

One of the vetos upheld--by a mere two votes in the House of Representatives--was SB 265.  SB 265 dealt with Agenda 21, an innocuous and non-binding U.N. model plan for dealing with sustainability, poverty, and various 'green' issues.  Governor Nixon vetoed SB 265, citing "ambiguously worded restrictions on state and local governments." 

Rep. Lyle Rowland sponsored SB 265 in the House
Rep. Lyle Rowland sponsored SB 265 in the House

Agenda 21 has become the focus of groups having an interest in defending property rights, which have strong support across Missouri. And Agenda 21 is often cited by opponents of sustainability and 'green' initiatives at the state and local levels.  For example, Agenda 21 opponents cited Denver's Bike Share system as an example of Agenda 21 in action, and testimony at SB 265 hearings in Jefferson City specifically mentioned St. Louis area bike paths as one of the type of 'land grab' projects SB 265 was designed to thwart.  

Little-noticed ambiguous but sweeping provision in SB 265 threatened bike/ped groups and others perceived to be working on 'green' initiatives

Most worrying to bicycle and pedestrian groups in Missouri was a little-noticed ambiguous provision in SB 265 (Section 3) that prohibited nonprofit organizations identified in Agenda 21 from working with or receiving funds from any local or government agencies. Since Agenda 21 recommends working with a wide variety of local nonprofits and agencies in order to develop broad community support for sustainability initiatives, it was very unclear whether or not Missouri bicycle and pedestrian nonprofits might have fallen under this prohibition.

The very ambiguity was troubling.  Laws should be written so as to be clear and unambiguous, and organizations naturally felt very uncomformtable because they were not certain whether or not they fell under the umbrella of the sweeping, ambiguous language.

Anti-Agenda 21 activists oppose bike-friendly roads and communities

A recent South County Times article discussed SB 265 and examined how Agenda 21 activists and those of us who support reasonable bicycle, pedestrian, and livability considerations in our communities may clash:

Lisa Pannett of South County is a mother with a mission: to make sure that her kids do not live in some "sustainable future" dictated by verbiage of Agenda 21 of the United Nations. . . .

"I have listened to city planners talk about walking and biking to work, getting rid of our cars, ending single-family home living in favor of stack-and-pack housing," explained Pannett. "Whether they know it or not, these bad ideas are straight out of the United Nations Agenda 21.

The St. Louis trail network was given as an example of Agenda 21 proliferating i
The St. Louis trail network was given as an example of Agenda 21 proliferating in Missouri

"I don't think average Americans want this in their schools and city codes," said Pannett. "It's really just an influential fringe that wants us to not have a yard, a single-family home or a car to get to work. I think we are waking up to what is going on now."

The article draws a direct connection between SB 265, sponsored in the House by Rep. Lyle Rowland of Cedar Creek, and concerns of citizens like Pannett:

In April, the awakened rallied at the Capitol Rotunda in Jefferson City to end the Agenda 21 threats "to our children's education, water resources, energy availability ... and our liberties daily here in Missouri." The rally also applauded Republicans Ed Martin, Shane Schoeller and Lyle Rowland for their anti-Agenda 21 stands.

Rep. Lyle Rowland, R-Cedarcreek, sponsored a statehouse bill to prevent the implementation of Agenda 21 as part of state and local policy, and to bar its kind of language from being incorporated into government codes or school district directives.

Anti-Agenda 21 activists like Pannett were  hoping the the veto of SB 265 would be overridden in this week's Veto Session:

South County's Pannett said she hopes the legislature will rebuff Gov. Jay Nixon, who vetoed Rowland's bill on July 1. Nixon called the bill an attempt to "solve a problem that does not exist" over a two-decades old non-binding U.N. Resolution.

Nixon said such bills may drive up the ratings on cable television talk shows, but should not be the basis for state public policy. He said the law would have forced local governments to interpret ambiguously worded restrictions to determine if a proposed action could be considered "traceable" to a nonbinding U.N. resolution.

Trailnet's Ann Mack responded to the concerns of the anti-Agenda 21 activists: 

Trailnet Executive Director Ann Mack responded to Agenda 21 claims
Trailnet Executive Director Ann Mack responded to Agenda 21 claims

Mack said people worried about Agenda 21 say some "off-the-wall things." She said her Trailnet bike riders were accused on talk radio of taking communal "group showers" together at the downtown bike station to save water.

"I think the anti-Agenda 21 bill has no place in our legislature," said Mack. "It's just fear-mongering to pass something like this in Missouri and it makes us look silly. I applaud Gov. Nixon for his veto of this bill."
Would anti-Agenda 21 activists of the sort detailed in this article have used SB 265 as a tool to discourage the work of bicycle and pedestrian organizations?  Since the bill didn't pass, we can't know for certain--but it certainly seems like a very real possibility.
House veto override effort fails by just two votes
Although SB 265 passed in May with a veto-proof majority in both Houses, the Governor's veto and work by organizations like MoBikeFed and our allies to oppose the ambiguously worded provisions of SB 265 was enough to persuade the Missouri House of Representatives to swing a few votes.
In the House, 109 votes are required to uphold the veto.  At 11:30 pm on September 11th, after less than five minutes of discussion and debate on SB 265, the House voted on the veto override. Although the board was held open for over 20 minutes--time used by bill supporters to arm-twist those last few representatives needed to put the veto override over the top--in the end the override effort failed.  The vote was 54 against and 107 in favor--just two shy of the margin needed to override the veto.
Thanks to the governor for vetoing this ambiguously worded bill, and thanks to those key representatives who had the courage to withstand pressure to support a bill that may have been very popular among some of their constituents but which had very serious technical flaws in its drafting.
What about propery rights issues in Missouri?
We know from talking with and surveying MoBikeFed members and supporters that bicycle, pedestrian, and trails supporters in Missouri come from everywhere on the political spectrum.  Undoubtedly many MoBikeFed members are concerned about the property rights issues that SB 265 was designed to address.
As an organization advocating for better bicycling, walking, and trails of all types and for all Missourians, MoBikeFed hasn't taken any particular position on property rights issues--it's something that just lies outside our mission.  The only reason we became involved in the discussion over SB 265 is because of the careless and ambiguous wording in the bill as drafted, that had potential to dramatically affect us and our allies across the state.  We hope that future legislation dealing with property rights issues will not have these serious problems.
More information

Vote records

In the Senate, 23 votes are needed to override the veto. The vote to override the SB 265 veto passed by a vote of 24 to 6.  Here are the votes from the Senate Journal:

YEAS (24) 
Brown Cunningham Dempsey Dixon Emery Kehoe Kraus Lager
Lamping Libla Munzlinger Nieves Parson Pearce Richard Romine
Rupp Sater Schaaf Schaefer Schmitt Silvey Wallingford Wasson
NAYS (6)
Chappelle-Nadal Holsman Justus Keaveny McKenna Sifton
Absent (4)
Curls LeVota Nasheed Walsh
In the House, 109 votes are needed to override. SB 265 failed to override by a vote of 107 in favor, 54 opposed, and 1 present.  The House Journal for the day shows this vote tally:
AYES: 107
Allen Anderson Austin Bahr Bernskoetter
Berry Brattin Brown Burlison Cierpiot
Conway 104 Cookson Cornejo Cox Crawford
Cross Curtman Davis Diehl Dohrman
Dugger Elmer Engler Entlicher Fitzpatrick
Fitzwater Flanigan Fowler Fraker Franklin
Frederick Funderburk Gannon Gatschenberger Gosen
Grisamore Guernsey Haahr Haefner Hampton
Hansen Hicks Higdon Hinson Hoskins
Houghton Hurst Johnson Jones 50 Justus
Keeney Kelley 127 Koenig Kolkmeyer Korman
Lair Lant Lauer Leara Lichtenegger
Love Lynch Marshall McCaherty McGaugh
Messenger Miller Molendorp Moon Morris
Muntzel Neely Neth Parkinson Pfautsch
Phillips Pike Pogue Redmon Rehder
Reiboldt Remole Rhoads Richardson Riddle
Ross Rowden Rowland Scharnhorst Schatz
Schieber Shull Shumake Solon Sommer
Spencer Stream Swan Thomson Torpey
Walker White Wieland Wilson Wood
Zerr Mr Speaker
NOES: 053
Anders Barnes Black Burns Butler
Carpenter Colona Conway 10 Curtis Dunn
Ellinger English Englund Frame Gardner
Harris Hodges Hough Hubbard Hummel
Kelly 45 Kirkton Kratky LaFaver May
Mayfield McCann Beatty McDonald McKenna McManus
McNeil Meredith Mims Mitten Montecillo
Morgan Nichols Norr Otto Pace
Peters Pierson Rizzo Roorda Runions
Schieffer Schupp Smith Swearingen Walton Gray
Webb Webber Wright
The vote in the House was close to party-line, with all Republicans but two voting in favor and all Democrats voting against or present. Two Republican Representatives voted against SB 265--just enough to defeat the override attempt: Representative Lincoln Hough of Springfield and Representative Jay Barnes of Jefferson City.

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