Vetoes and Two-Thirds Majority Rule
If you read statewide news, you might have noticed that Governor McAuliffe has been vetoing a bill sent to him from the General Assembly almost every day. We have another two weeks before we return on April 20 for our so-called “veto session.” This is officially referred to as “Reconvene Session” and is the day we assemble back in Richmond to consider vetoes and any changes proposed by the governor to certain bills. In Virginia, we have the “line item veto,” by which a governor can propose changes in portions of individual bills passed by the legislature, including the budget. Sustaining a governor’s line-item change requires a simple majority. If a governor vetoes a bill, the only way it becomes law is for a two-thirds majority in each chamber to vote for the bill “notwithstanding the Governor’s veto.”
Among Gov. McAuliffe’s vetoes are bills that would:
- Defund Planned Parenthood;
- Undermine efforts of the Commonwealth to produce a Clean Power Plan;
- Extend inefficient and costly tax credits to coal producers;
- Deny localities the ability to contract with private companies that pay a living wage;
- Allow gender discrimination under the guise of religious freedom;
- Would reverse the Governor’s executive orders to keep guns out of administrative buildings;
- Remove the discretion of Sheriffs and local law enforcement officers in handling immigration detention requests from the federal government;
- Place additional barriers on citizens’ ability to register and vote; and
- Limit the ability of localities to determine the status of monuments in their cities and counties.
These items are being vetoed by the Governor because they reflect policy choices embraced by a small minority of Virginia citizens or are arguably unconstitutional, or both.
As of April 6, the Governor has signed more than 750 bills and has vetoed over 25 bills from the 2016 Session. By contrast, former Governor Bob McDonnell vetoed a total of 18 bills during his four year administration, and Governor Tim Kaine vetoed a total of 30. One reason for Governor McAuliffe’s numbers rests in the present composition of the House of Delegates and the state Senate, which are both controlled by conservative Republican majorities. By contrast, Governor George Allen, a Republican confronted with Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, vetoed a total of 51 bills during his administration. Republican Jim Gilmore vetoed a total of 50 bills over four years, despite narrow Republican majorities in the House and Senate during the last two years of his administration. Until recently, many conservative measures passed by the House were then defeated in a more moderate Senate. That dynamic is no longer the rule as conservatives now have a majority in both the House and Senate. The only thing standing in the way of some of this socially-conservative legislation becoming law is Governor McAuliffe’s veto.
Two-Thirds Majority Rule
Overriding a Governor’s veto takes a two-thirds majority in each chamber. That is 67 votes in the House and 26 votes in the Senate. Most observers believe that all of the vetoes will be sustained and that none of these measures will become law, but this will all be determined on April 20.