Veto issues

Two years ago, Gov. Jim Gibbons set a record for number of vetoes issued by a Nevada governor, most of which were unneeded. As we reported at the time, Gibbons was so detached from events that he was taken aback by some of the bills that arrived on his desk.

“Some of the vetoes dealt with matters of such moment as hunting apprenticeships and a street closure in Las Vegas and could have been rendered unnecessary if Gibbons, like all other governors, had involved himself in the legislative process,” we reported. “Legislative leaders said his concerns could have been accommodated when the bills were being sent through committees and amended. ‘He never asked for these changes,’ said a legislative staffer. Gibbons even absented himself from the capital during several of the closing days of the legislative session, something no governor in memory has done.”

No one expected a repeat this year, but it has come to pass. While he did not match the Gibbons record of 48, Gov. Brian Sandoval—once again taking a cue from his incompetent predecessor—issued 28 vetoes, and it is fair to ask what he and his staff were doing during the legislative session. For instance, he never asked lawmakers for the simple change he wanted in a bill changing Reno City Council elections, so he ended up vetoing the bill (“Veto,” page 8).

On other occasions, he used his official veto solely to enforce his political party’s needs. Democrats and Republicans each had approaches to empowering the state’s fast-growing Latino populace. Republicans pulled a lot of Latinos into a single district where they had a bare majority. Democrats distributed Latinos so they would be the dominant force in three of the state’s four House districts. Both were perfectly legitimate ways to do the job. Sandoval vetoed the Democratic plan.

In still other cases, he vetoed simply because he didn’t like bills, using the one-third-plus-one requirement for a veto override as a governing principle rather than reserving it for exceptional bills. In many cases, no new information came out after enactment of bills, no fundamental issues were at stake, the bills clearly expressed legislative intent, yet the governor vetoed anyway.

During a discussion of the veto at the U.S. constitutional convention in 1787, delegate Roger Sherman argued that it was more probable that a single man would make a mistake than a legislature. Gov. Sandoval put that notion into action.

Let us turn now to a related topic. In Nevada, the legislature meets only every other year. Given the high rate of turnover in the membership of Nevada’s legislature, most veto override votes are held by a later legislature containing members who did not participate in the original processing of vetoed bills. As a result, governors have a very high rate of overrides.

In other states such as Missouri, South Carolina and Virginia hold veto sessions after the governor’s allowed time to veto has passed. In this way, the same lawmakers who enacted proposed laws—and know what they contain—vote on whether to override their veto.

Until 1998, the Nevada Legislature could have recessed for 10 days and come back for a day or two to vote on overrides. But the 120-day legislative session mandated by the public’s 1998 vote—another “reform” with unintended consequences—now prevents that. The lawmakers in 2013 should begin the process of amending the constitution so the voters can approve a veto session.