JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Just hours after a bald eagle soared mightily over the Missouri House chamber, the passage of impeachment resolutions in a House committee failed to take flight.
Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee were openly skeptical of three resolutions that seek to impeach Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
The three different resolutions were critical of Nixon for delayed calls for special elections, the 2013 drama surrounding release of conceal carry permit data to the federal government, and an executive order allowing the state of Missouri to accept joint tax returns from same-sex couples married in other states.
Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, chairman of the House Judiciary committee, raised concerns that the claims against Nixon may be better heard in the court, where litigation is currently pending. Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa, expressed similar concerns.
Rep. Nick Marshall, R-Parkville, filed articles of impeachment alleging Nixon violated the Missouri Constitution and state law when he issued an executive order allowing his administration’s Department of Revenue to begin accepting joint tax returns from same-sex couples married in other states.
“To be valid and recognized in this state, marriage must be between a man and a woman,” said Marshall, referencing a 2004 voter-approved amendment to the state constitution banning marriage for gay couples. “You must be husband and wife in order to file a combined return under Missouri law.”
Nixon has said his order was in line with a notice from the Internal Revenue Service that said it would begin accepting joint tax returns from same-sex couples regardless of where they are from.
In his executive order, he noted two sections in Missouri law that he believes give him cover. One states that a “husband and wife who file a joint federal income tax return shall file a combined [state] return”, and another that states that any term used in state law “shall shall have the same meaning as when used in a comparable context in the laws of the United States relating to federal income taxes.”
Marshall said his claim was based in more than his disagreement with Nixon’s analysis.
“It’s not a dispute over legal theory,” he said. “It’s about whether or not a person can look their constituents back home in the face about whether a husband or wife means marriage.
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, a former judge, said a legal disagreement would be best handled in a court of law, where litigation is currently pending regarding Nixon’s order.
“I have been in court where I believed absolutely that I was correct. The people on the other side believed absolutely that they were correct. Sadly, the courts shared the perception of my opponents, as villainous as they were,” Kelly said. “That’s why we have courts — to resolve those legal issue.”
Nixon’s administration, as well as the governor himself, have downplayed the impeachment hearings as a legislative “publicity stunt.”
“The fact that they want to heighten the attention around that issue zone is their choice, but if they were serious about what they were talking about they would have been moving forward an amendment to the statute of which that opinion was based,” Nixon said on Tuesday.