General Assembly Votes to Sustain All Gubernatorial Vetoes

April 19, 2012

The Virginia General Assembly sustained all of Gov. Bob McDonnell's vetoes Wednesday and accepted the vast majority of amendments he offered to bills passed during the 2012 legislative session.

Lawmakers did reject the governor's plan to enhance incentives for shippers using the Port of Virginia, as well as one of his changes to hotly contested legislation requiring voters to show identification at the polls, but most of his amendments sailed through with little debate during the annual one-day reconvened session.

Only one veto came close to being overridden. McDonnell vetoed legislation sponsored by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, that would have allowed localities to increase from $100 to $250 a penalty they can impose on motorists who register their car in another state to circumvent Virginia's personal property tax on vehicles.

Sickles said thousands of residents in Virginia drive cars with Maryland plates, depriving the Virginia and local governments of revenue. He said the tax scofflaws figure that even if they're caught, the $100 penalty is less than paying the car tax.

In his veto message, McDonnell said the bill was not needed because a separate state law allows a $250 fine for any resident who does not register his car with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. But Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, said only 38 violators were fined under that law last year in Fairfax County while the measure that was the subject of Sickles' bill netted 3,000 violators — largely because of residents reporting neighbors to county tax officials.

It takes a two-thirds vote of both chambers to override a veto. The House barely reached that mark, voting 64-31 to override, but the Senate came up short at 21-16.

A half-dozen other gubernatorial vetoes were either unopposed or sustained by comfortable margins.

The legislature also accepted McDonnell's amendments to two bills making sweeping changes to the public employee pension system.

One of the amendments allows cities, counties and towns five years to phase in 5 percent pay raises that teachers and local employees will have to contribute to the Virginia Retirement System, which has nearly $25 billion in unfunded liabilities. City and county leaders had asked for the amendment because they were concerned that a large, immediate increase in payroll expenses would force them to raise taxes or cut services.

Lawmakers also agreed to mostly technical changes to another bill that scales back retirement benefits for public employees with less than five years in the system. New hires starting in July 2014 would be put into a hybrid pension plan that melds traditional defined benefits with a defined contribution plan like a 401(k), which employees direct and which can gain or lose value based on market fluctuations.

Most of McDonnell's amendments to the voter ID bill were accepted, including his decision to strike a provision that would have allowed poll workers to waive the requirement if they recognized the voter. The Republican-backed bill, which Democrats called a throwback to Jim Crow literacy tests and poll taxes, would require voters who don't show an ID to cast a provisional ballot that would be counted later if they return with the required identification.

McDonnell proposed setting up an automatic review by local elections officials comparing signatures on the provisional ballot with those on file with the State Board of Elections, eliminating the necessity for voters to make a separate trip to local registrars' offices with ID in hand. Legislators rejected that amendment after some said election officials would have trouble evaluating signatures that can change as a person ages.

Legislators also rejected McDonnell's amendment to establish an "Economic and Infrastructure Development Zone" allowing an "Economic and Infrastructure Development Zone" allowing corporate income tax credits to companies that use the Port of Virginia.

In the House, Speaker William J. Howell ruled the amendment was improper because it created an entire new code section. The Senate overwhelmingly rejected the amendment after the sponsor of the original bill, Sen. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach, said he would prefer to come back next year with a program offering grants instead of tax credits.

Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, encouraged his colleagues to support McDonnell's amendments to his bill prohibiting authorities from aiding the armed forces in illegal detentions of U.S. citizens. A provision in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act could allow for the indefinite military detentions of Americans, even though President Barack Obama said he would not allow the provision to be enforced. Marshall called it an egregious federal overreach.

McDonnell's amendments, accepted by lawmakers, insert the word "knowingly" to protect state authorities who unwittingly aid an unconstitutional detention; limit its scope to detentions only — not investigations or prosecutions; and protect state and local authorities involved in joint task forces where the stated intentions are not illegal detainments.

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