Override of gubernatorial veto a rare event

Print More

(Host) When lawmakers gather in Montpelier for a special veto session next month, they’ll try to do something that’s rarely been done in the last 100 years in Vermont And that’s to override a gubernatorial veto.

This year the Legislature will consider two vetoes – the global warming bill and campaign finance reform legislation.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel has this historical look at the veto.

(Kinzel) Vermont governors were given the power to veto bills in 1836 with the creation of a bicameral Legislature. Initially a veto could be overridden by a simple majority of lawmakers.

The first veto was issued in 1839 by Governor S.H. Jenison over a bill to incorporate the Memphremagog Literary and Theological Seminary. That veto was sustained by lawmakers.

Then in 1913, a constitutional amendment was ratified that raised the threshold to override a veto to two thirds of the House and Senate.

State Archivist Gregory Sanford has conducted an exhaustive study of the 128 vetoes that have been issued by Vermont governors over the past 171 years.

Based on his research, Sanford says there are essentially three reasons why governors have vetoed a bill. One is that the legislation has technical flaws. The second is that the governor believes the bill is unconstitutional. The third is a more recent development.

(Sanford) “More recently you see the veto as a policy tool. This goes against the policies of this administration. This will break the budget policies and initiatives of this administration. And you can see that in the sense that of the 128 vetoes, about a third of them have been since 1980. And almost all of them, but not all of them, fall within the policy reason for vetoing it. And probably the greatest practitioner of that was Governor Howard Dean, who has the greatest number of vetoes of all governors. He has 21 vetoes.”

(Kinzel) Legislative leaders readily admit that trying to override either of Governor Douglas’ vetoes will be a difficult task. Sanford says there’s no doubt that history is on the side of the governor:

(Sanford) “It’s a very powerful tool of the 128 vetoes that we’ve identified since 1836 only 6 have been overridden, none since 1990.”

(Kinzel) Sanford says a number of governors have used their formal veto message to make powerful policy statements such as Governor Richard Snelling’s message in 1982 after he vetoed legislation raising Vermont’s drinking age to 21.

(Sanford) “He talked about how in his own mind and his own belief system, he didn’t see how you could create two classes of citizens. You were either a citizen with the full bundle of rights, privileges and obligations or you weren’t.”

(Host) Since 1925, lawmakers have overridden a gubernatorial veto only two times.

Sanford says the last override occurred in 1990 when lawmakers successfully overturned Governor Madeleine Kunin’s veto of a budget adjustment bill.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

Comments are closed.