UPDATED at 12:45 p.m. to include reaction from bill's sponsor and Missouri Catholic Conrference.
JEFFERSON CITY • Gov. Jay Nixon today vetoed a bill that would have allowed employers and insurers to decide not to provide coverage for abortion, contraception or sterilization if such procedures run contrary to their religious beliefs or moral convictions.
The move, a sensitive one for the Democratic governor seeking re-election this fall, sets up a confrontation with the Republican-led Legislature. The bill's sponsor, Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, said he would seek to override the veto in September.
Nixon said Missouri law already provides "strong religious protections" that let employers and employees abstain from paying for contraceptive coverage based on their beliefs.
In fact, he said, the bill would undermine the current protections because it would let an insurance company "impose its will, and deny inclusion of contraceptive coverage, even if that position is inconsistent with the rights and beliefs of the employee or employer."
At a news conference in his Capitol office this morning, Nixon said he vetoed the bill because "we want families making these decisions -- not insurance companies."
Supporters of the bill called the governor's reasoning "bogus" and "a made-up argument."
"I think he's just trying to thread the political needle," Lamping said.
"No one else in the entire Capitol ever had an objection" that insurers would thwart an employer's request to include coverage for services such as contraception and abortion, Lamping said.
"It's kind of a made-up argument," the senator said.
Lamping said he believes he would have enough votes to override the veto when the Legislature meets for its annual veto session in September.
The bill is SB749. It passed in May on votes of 105-33 in the House and 28-6 in the Senate. An override would require 109 votes in the House and 23 votes in the Senate.
Lamping said it was important to pass his bill because a federal Affordable Care Act provision -- which requires employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives, with some exceptions -- will take effect in August.
While his bill would put Missouri in conflict with that federal policy "I'd rather be in keeping with the federal constitution than an administrative rule" on the federal level, Lamping said.
But Cheryl Dillard, a retired insurance executive in Kansas City, said the bill would put insurers in a difficult situation.
"Either carriers would be breaking the federal law or they would be breaking state law," she said. "The governor's veto is a good thing for Missouri's insurance carriers and employers."
Nixon said in his veto message that nothing in the bill would have enhanced the state's "substantive religious protections that have been in place and afforded to employees and employers" for years under Missouri law.
Mike Hoey, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, said that was inaccurate, because the bill would have required insurers to issue policies that exclude contraception or abortion when an employer requests it. Under current law, the insurer can tell the employer to find a different insurer, Hoey said.
Like Lamping, Hoey said Nixon based his veto on a "theoretical interpretation" of how insurers would act. "That's just not going to happen, on a practical level," he said, calling Nixon's argument "bogus."
The governor also vetoed a bill that would have reinstated local sales taxes on vehicles purchased out of state. The bill is HB1329.
A Missouri Supreme Court ruling knocked out the tax in cities and counties where voters have not approved local use taxes.
Nixon said that in reinstating the tax, the Legislature's plan would have circumvented the local referendum process, in defiance of the Supreme Court's directive....and deny voters the ability to approve or reject a local use tax on such purchases."
He noted that more than 90 cities and 40 counties have approved a local use tax and were unaffected by the court ruling.