Missouri House of Representatives Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith’s legislation that would clarify the process for filling statewide office vacancies is one step closer to approval by the House.
Smith’s legislation, HB 110, was approved by a vote of 11-1 by the House Elections Committee Jan. 15. The bill is the first legislation to receive committee approval in the House this session.
Smith (R-Salem), who represents the 120th District, said the bill, which would require special elections to fill vacancies in the offices of lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state auditor, state treasurer and U.S. Senator, is one he has filed for the last several years.
HB 110 bill would require the governor to call a special election to fill a statewide vacancy at the same time as a scheduled general election. Smith said the change would prevent any additional cost from being passed on to Missouri taxpayers.
Smith’s legislation would allow the governor to appoint a temporary officeholder to fill the vacancy until the election takes place.
If passed, the bill would clarify what would happen to a vacant lieutenant governor posiition if current Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is successful in his bid to become the next U.S. congressional representative for Missouri’s Eighth District. U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, who is resigning,
Smith, himself, also has expressed interest in her seat.
State law is unclear on how a new lieutenant governor would be selected. According to the Associated Press, the state constitution gives the governor authority to “fill all vacancies in public offices unless otherwise provided by law.”
However a Missouri law states that when there is a vacancy in an elected office “other than in the offices of lieutenant governor, state senator or representative, sheriff or recorder of deeds in the city of St. Louis, the vacancy shall be filled by appointment by the governor.”
In the past, governors have appointed new lieutenant governors when there were vacancies.
The AP states that Missouri's most recent lieutenant governor vacancy arose in 2000 when Democratic Lt. Gov. Roger Wilson became governor after the death of Mel Carnahan. After that year’s election, Wilson appointed just-elected Democratic Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell to start his tenure early.
Decades earlier, Democratic Gov. Warren Hearnes in 1969 appointed just-elected Lt. Gov. William S. Morris to fill the remainder of Thomas Eagleton’s term after Eagleton left for the U.S. Senate before his term ended.
However, the state Senate leader at that time refused to recognize the appointment, called it illegal and threatened to throw Morris out of the chamber if he came to preside. Morris ultimately waited until his elected term began.
Even further back, state records seem to indicate that after Lt. Gov. Wilson Brown died in August 1855 partway through his term, the office remained vacant until after the 1856 election.
“The governor is already on record – he believes he has the authority to appoint a successor should the lieutenant governor’s office have a vacancy,” said Smith.
“While there is precedent for the governor making an appointment, it clearly flies in the face of our existing state laws. My legislation will make it crystal clear that the voice of the people will be heard when filling a vacancy for this office and other statewide offices,” said Smith.
“It’s outrageous that the will of the people could be denied in filling a statewide office,” said Smith. “My legislation is structured to give the people a say, and to do it without creating a financial burden for Missouri taxpayers. I’m hopeful we can move this common sense change into law this session.”
Smith’s bill now moves to the House Rules Committee for approval. Smith said he believes that bi-partisan support in both the House and Senate give the bill its best chance yet to become law.
The bill contains an emergency clause that would put it into effect as law upon being signed by the governor.