The Virginia General Assembly gathered for a one-day session Wednesday to consider legislation that Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vetoed or amended.
McAuliffe vetoed five bills and amended dozens of others. The General Assembly did not override any of the governor’s vetoes due to insufficient support in the Senate.
The General Assembly accepted the governor’s recommended changes on 34 bills. The House of Delegates rejected his proposed changes on 16 bills and the Senate rejected his changes on five bills.
McAuliffe vetoed a bill that would allow gun owners to carry a weapon in a glove box, trunk or other container in their car. The governor wanted language to state that the container must be locked, but the House of Delegates rejected that language and McAuliffe vetoed the bill.
Under a circumstance in which the governor’s amendments to a bill are rejected or not fully accepted by both chambers, the governor can sign or veto the legislation. If vetoed, it does not return to the General Assembly in this instance.
McAuliffe vetoed two bills related to religious expression.
One would prohibit the government from placing any restrictions on the content of sermons offered by Virginia National Guard chaplains. McAuliffe said that military chaplains have the right to conduct voluntary worship services and counseling for guard members, as well as private religious exercises, in any manner of their choosing.
However, he wrote in his veto statement, chaplains should not be able to use mandatory or public events to promote their own religious views.
“I am of the view that this bill would seriously undermine the religious freedom of National Guard members by potentially exposing them to sectarian proselytizing,” McAuliffe wrote.
McAuliffe used similar reasoning in vetoing a bill codifying protections of prayer and religious expression in public schools. He said that schools are already prohibited from interfering with religious expression and that the bill would potentially infringe on students’ rights to be “free from coercive prayer.”
Both bills failed to get the 26 votes in the Senate Wednesday required to override the governor’s veto, so the House of Delegates did not take them up.
Red light cameras
A bill allowing people who receive red light camera tickets to appeal to the circuit court passed the House of Delegates and Senate nearly unanimously during the regular session. However, McAuliffe vetoed the bill.
He said that the general district courts are capable of handling the tickets, which carry only a $50 fine and do not affect a person’s criminal or driving record. Elevating such minor cases to the circuit court could add additional stress to the judicial system, McAuliffe said, and detract resources from more serious offenses.
The House of Delegates overrode the governor’s veto, but the Senate came up one vote shy of the 26 votes needed to override the veto.
The governor vetoed a bill making technical amendments to 10 Senate districts. Proponents of the bill said the goal was to eliminate split precincts — when people who vote at the same location reside in two different districts.
Election officials view split precincts as more challenging to administer.
McAuliffe did not dispute this assertion but vetoed the bill anyway, due to the potential precedent it sets.
Last year, Senate Republicans used a similar bill to force through more substantial changes to the House of Delegates district map, passing the measure on a day a Democrat was absent and Republicans had a one-vote majority. That change ultimately did not pass, with some Republican leaders resisting the over-politicization of the redistricting process.
McAuliffe said that he vetoed this year’s technical amendments because of the precedent set by allowing annual changes to districts, rather than adjust them every 10 years after the census.
“Allowing the legislature to make substantive changes to electoral districts more frequently than once a decade injects further partisanship into a process that I regard as already too partisan,” he said.
McAuliffe also said he believes that the legislation could be unconstitutional and would lead to court challenges.
The bill did not receive enough votes in the Senate to override the governor’s veto.
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