The veto vote: a new trend emerges

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(Host) Through Vermont history, a governor’s ability to veto a bill has been a powerful tool.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, how that power has been wielded has changed through the years.

(Sneyd) It was 1839 when a governor first vetoed a bill passed by the Vermont Legislature.

Governors have rejected bills 136 times since then. Their decision has near always stood even though legislatures have the authority to override vetoes.

A legislature has only done that eight times – including twice this year. Once on a same-sex marriage bill and now on the 2010 budget.

State archivist Gregory Sanford says both of this year’s veto overrides are examples of a new trend in how a governor uses his power.

(Sanford) "What we’ve really seen over the last 20-30 years is increasingly the use of the veto as a policy tool."

(Sneyd) Before that recent history, a veto was issued for much different reasons.

Originally, governors rejected a bill that they decided had been drafted and adopted so quickly that signing it would have meant mistakes would have made it into state law.

Later, they reserved a veto pretty much just for those bills that they thought were unconstitutional.

Now, political considerations play a more prominent role – and vetoes are more common. Howard Dean holds the record with 21 and Jim Douglas is second with 17.

Sanford says we may be seeing a new historical trend emerging.

(Sanford) "Will it begin to be changed again and looked in a different way? Does it become less of an effective policy tool when you have a governor of one party and a legislature dominated by another party?"

(Sneyd) Some in the Legislature seem to think so. During the debate over the budget veto, some Republicans warned that the balance of power could be shifting. And they think the Legislature is gaining too much.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.


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