Understanding the Power of the Veto

It’s often said that two things you don’t want to see are making sausage and making legislation.  The Governor’s veto power is one of those ugly tools in the tool kit that is usually used more as a threat then in reality.

Gov. Chris Christie recently made headlines when he vetoed two bills passed by the New Jersey Legislature. In one case, Christie outright vetoed legislation that would have increased the minimum wage. In another, he kept the push to legalize Internet gaming alive by issuing a conditional veto.

Both cases highlight the often-indelicate dance between the Legislature and the Governor when it comes to vetoes and the power  to enact laws under the New Jersey Constitution. Under Art. V, Sec. 14 of the NJ Constitution, a passed bill presented to the Governor will only become law if: (1) the Governor approves and signs it; (2) the Governor fails to return it to the house of origin, with a statement of his objections, before the expiration of the period allowed for his consideration, which is generally 45 days; or (3) two-thirds of all the members of each house agree to pass the bill after objection by the Governor.

When the Governor disapproves of a passed bill, the New Jersey Constitution provides several options. In the case of the NJ minimum wage legislation, Gov. Christie vetoed the bill absolutely and instead proposed his own plan for a more gradual increase. A vetoed bill cannot become law unless the Legislature overrides the veto by a vote of at least two-thirds of the members of each house. 

However, predicting the veto was coming, the New Jersey legislature is already considering a new bill that would amend the NJ Constitution to accomplish the same goals of raising the minimum wage to $8.25, and tying future increases to the Consumer Price Index. The constitutional amendment takes the Governor out of the process, but will require the approval of at least three-fifths of both the Senate and the General Assembly and the majority of New Jersey voters.

With regard to Internet gaming, Gov. Christie took a different approach by issuing a conditional veto, which objects to parts of a bill and proposes amendments that would make it acceptable. Should the Legislature enact the proposed amendments, the bill will be presented again to the Governor for signature. In this case, lawmakers have stated that they are receptive to Gov. Christie’s proposed changes, which include increasing the tax on online gaming revenue from 10 percent to 15 percent and implementing a 10-year sunset provision.

While outright and conditional vetoes are among the most commonly used, the Governor also has several other veto powers in his tool kit. For bills containing an appropriation, the line item veto allows the Governor to approve the bill but reduce or eliminate monies appropriated for specific items. Lastly, the Governor can also allow bills to simply die out. The pocket veto is the only type of veto that is not subject to override. However, it only applies only to bills passed within the last 10 days of a 2-year legislative session. 

 Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Lyndhurst, N.J. based law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck.  He is also the editor of the Constitutional Law Reporter and Government and Law blogs.

 

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