Will the Vetoes Be Overridden? (to the tune of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”)

The stage is set. The players are in the wings. On Wednesday morning, the Legislature will return — virtually — for a brief veto override session. All three of Gov. Phil Scott’s 2021 vetoes are on the agenda. The action, for those of us who believe a YouTube screen full of tiny politicians’ faces constitutes “action,” gets underway in the House and Senate simultaneously, at 10:00 a.m.

The House will be first to take up Scott’s vetoes of H. 177 and H.227, the charter changes for Montpelier and Winooski respectively to allow noncitizen residents to vote in local elections only. Meanwhile, the Senate will take up S.107, which would raise the minimum age for public release of information about the arrest and charge of an offender.

This all seems perfectly normal. But in reality, it’s not.

While the Republican governor has set a new record for vetoes with 23, the Democratic Legislature has been loath to even attempt overrides. Scott has vetoed 20 bills from 2017 through 2020; only two of them have been overridden. In the vast majority of Scott’s other 18 vetoes, the Legislature didn’t even try.

So, attempting overrides on three vetoes in a single year is unprecedented during the Scott administration, and I’m guessing unprecedented in Vermont history.

Vetoes are infrequent in Vermont history. Or at least they were until Scott took office, harrumph. Attempts to override gubernatorial vetoes are even rarer. Most vetoes go unchallenged by the Legislature. A bill can pass with a simple majority; an override requires two-thirds support. That’s a very high bar, even when the governor is from one party and the House and Senate majorities are from another. And leadership doesn’t usually let a vote happen unless they are sure they’re going to win.

So far this year, executive and legislative leaders have openly congratulated each other on working together and minimizing partisan differences. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint and House Speaker Jill Krowinski have been praised for maintaining open communication with the governor. So much so, in fact, that there have been rumblings (from me, at least) about whether the two were — in purely political terms — playing too cozy with Scott.

But now that Scott has “wielded his veto pen” (a phrase that only occurs in journalism), Balint and Krowinski are showing that all along, there was a fisted glove holding that rose. There’s a time to stop singing “Kumbaya.”

And if Balint and Krowinski pull off the overrides, it’s a historic accomplishment. Especially since both are in their first year as the top leaders. (As I wrote previously, most speakers and pro tems endure some rocky times in their rookie campaigns.) If Balint and Krowinski can execute the rose and the fisted glove, It would further cement their reputations for superior leadership.

And who knows, it might induce Scott to start ommunicating his concerns to lawmakers before a bill gets to veto and override.

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