Posted on Apr 21, 2016
By James Miessler and Diana DiGangi
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The General Assembly failed Wednesday to override any of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s vetoes of legislation championed by Republicans, including bills to defund Planned Parenthood and let home-schoolers participate in public-school sports.
Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate. That was doable in the House, where there are 66 Republicans and 34 Democrats. But it proved impossible in the Senate, where Democrats hold 19 of the 40 seats.
For example, McAuliffe had vetoed Senate Bill 41, which would have allowed ministers and religious groups to refuse to participate in the marriage of a same-sex couple if it went against their religious beliefs. The Senate voted 21-18 along party lines in favor of reversing the veto – but that was well short of the 26 “yes” votes required.
Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Galax, was the sponsor of SB 41. He urged his colleagues to override McAuliffe’s veto.
“This bill is an attempt to protect pastors from having to go against things that they believe are of a deeply held religious belief,” Carrico said. “Unlike some of the things that the governor is pointing out that’s happening in other states, this is nothing to do with that.”
In his veto message, McAuliffe called SB 41 “discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.” He said the bill would be “bad for business” because “job creators do not want to locate or do business in states that appear more concerned with demonizing people than with creating a strong business climate.”
That was a reference to North Carolina, which has lost business because it recently enacted a law widely perceived as discriminatory against people who are transgender or gay.
Senators also failed to reverse McAuliffe’s veto of SB 44, which sought to extend the state’s coal-tax credits. Republicans and other legislators representing Virginia’s coalfields say the tax credits would help coal miners. In vetoing the bill, the governor noted that since 1988, coal mine operators and related companies have claimed more than $610 million in tax credits – but the number of coal miners in Virginia has plunged from more than 11,000 to fewer than 3,000.
“It would be unwise to spend additional taxpayer dollars on a tax credit that has fallen so short of its intended effectiveness,” McAuliffe said.
The Senate voted 24-15 in favor of reversing the veto – two votes short. (In the House, with help from two Democratic delegates, Republicans managed to override the veto on a 68-30 vote. But without the Senate’s concurrence, it didn’t matter.)
On a 21-18 vote, the Senate was unable to override House Bill 587, which sought to prevent local governments from removing Confederate monuments. Sen. David Marsden, D-Burke, spoke in defense of McAuliffe’s veto of that bill.
“There are decisions that we need to make about people, and when localities have made these decisions, I think it’s our obligation to allow them to continue to make those decisions for themselves,” Marsden said.
Also on a 21-18 vote, the Senate failed to override the governor’s veto of SB 612, commonly known as the “Tebow bill.” It would have allowed home-schooled students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities at their local high schools.
Another much-watched bill was HB 1090, which would have cut off state funding for Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions in addition to family planning counseling, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and other services.
The House voted 66-34 in favor of overriding McAuliffe’s veto of HB 1090. That was one vote shy of the 67 required.
Before voting got underway, there were partisan clashes. House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, a Republican from Colonial Heights, criticized McAuliffe for vetoing 32 bills – the most since 1998.
“As we get to this reconvened session, I’ve been disturbed,” Cox said. “Too often, this governor is just too happy, I think, to score political points and tends to be a bit disinterested in the legislative process.”
Minority Leader David Toscano, a Democrat from Charlottesville, fired back.
“The governor was very clear when he stood before us,” Toscano said. “He said, ‘Let’s not get distracted by this divisive social legislation. And I will tell you now, if you pass it I will veto it.’ So why should we be disturbed?”
Late Wednesday, McAuliffe issued a statement saying he is “proud that the General Assembly did not override any of the 32 vetoes we submitted this year, or any of the 68 I have submitted throughout my tenure to date.”
““While there is no question that this session was marked far more by compromise and accomplishment than by partisan conflict, there are some areas on which Republicans in the General Assembly and I disagreed,” McAuliffe said.
“The vetoes I submitted to the legislature for their consideration today honored the promise I made in the State of the Commonwealth to reject legislation that divides Virginians, makes them less safe, or sends a negative message about the climate we offer to families or businesses that may want to locate here. The controversies we are watching in other states underscore the need to reject legislation that divides or distracts us from the work Virginians elected us to do.”