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Progressive Voice: Power of the Veto Pen, Part 2

Larry RobertsProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or

By Lawrence Roberts

In the March 31 Progressive Voice column, I explored the impact of the Dillon Rule on Arlington County – how Arlington cannot exercise its governing will unless the governing authority has been provided by the Virginia General Assembly. Moreover, the General Assembly can pass laws preventing localities from addressing matters of concern to the locality.

Perhaps the most publicized recent action by a state to prevent a locality from acting was the passage in North Carolina of HB2 (called the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act”).

Much of the news coverage about HB2 focused on the requirement that people (including transgender individuals) use bathrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificates and the restrictions on the rights of LGBT individuals to sue in state court to address discrimination.

But the bill was passed in a rushed special session hurriedly called to invalidate an anti-discrimination ordinance recently adopted by City Council of Charlotte, the state’s largest city.

Not only did the state legislature reverse Charlotte’s expansion of LGBT rights, but it also banned North Carolina cities from raising the minimum wage.

North Carolina’s governor quickly signed HB2 into law, only to face backlash from a broad spectrum of interests including major businesses and academic institutions.

While the Governor has now taken steps to give state employees more nondiscrimination protections, the invalidation of Charlotte’s ordinance and ban on local minimum wage increases remain in place.

One difference between North Carolina and Virginia is that in North Carolina the same party controls both the state legislature and the Governor’s office. By contrast, in Virginia Republicans control the General Assembly while Governor McAuliffe is a Democrat.

In the March 31 column, I identified bills vetoed by Governor McAuliffe that would have limited local authority or expanded state control in ways contrary to the view of a large percentage of Arlingtonians.

Over the past two weeks, before the veto deadline, the Governor wielded his veto pen to stop other legislative initiatives that would either assert state authority or restrict local self-governance in ways that most Arlingtonians would consider inconsistent with their values.

Measures that would have become law but for the Governor’s veto (as those bills were described by the Governor) include:

1) HB481 and SB270 attempt to prohibit the release of individuals in custody if those individuals are suspected of violating U.S. immigration laws where the bills are intended to communicate a sense that non-citizens are to be feared and should be treated as more dangerous than other persons;

2) HB516 would interfere with local school board policies and have the state require schools to identify material that is “sexually explicit” contrary to the state’s long policy of entrusting curriculum management to local school boards;

3) HB518, HB389, and HB8SB would undercut local school boards’ constitutional authority to determin how to assign students to schools;

4) HB1234 would permit school security officers who are not employees of a local law enforcement agency to carry firearms in schools without ensuring adequate training; and

5) SB626 and HB766 would eliminate the application and training requirements before carrying a concealed handgun in ways that would encourage victims of domestic violence to introduce deadly weapons into an already dangerous situation.

In all, Governor McAuliffe vetoed 32 of 811 bills passed by the General Assembly – more than any Virginia Governor since Jim Gilmore in 1998.

The Governor’s vetoes will be considered by the General Assembly during a Reconvene Session to be held on April 20. Two-thirds votes of both the House of Delegates and State Senate are required to override the vetoes.

Arlingtonians will be left to consider how different the state and County would be if, as in North Carolina, a conservative legislature does not have to contend with a progressive Governor.

That will be the central question facing Arlington voters in 2017 when Virginia will elect a new Governor and the 100 House of Delegates seats are up for election.

Larry Roberts is a 30-year resident of Arlington and an attorney in private practice. He chaired two successful statewide campaigns and is a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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