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Indy Explains: Handful of veto overrides possible, but unlikely, for 2019 Legislature

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Indy ExplainersLegislature
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Bills banning private prisons, increasing renewable energy standards and controlling out-of-network emergency room bills could be raised from the dead in two months when state lawmakers convene for the 2019 Legislature.

After Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed them — he issued a record-setting 41 vetoes in the 2017 legislative session — state lawmakers opted not to bring any of the rejected measures up for an override vote during the last days of the Legislature. But 15 of the killed bills were vetoed by Sandoval after the close of the session, meaning a new set of lawmakers will have the opportunity to reverse the outgoing governor’s decision.

Veto overrides, which require a two-thirds vote, are exceedingly rare in Nevada political history — only 36 gubernatorial vetoes have been reversed since 1899, out of more than 573 bills vetoed over the last 119 years. The vast majority of them occurred in 2009, when legislators of both parties banded together to override 25 of the 48 bills vetoed by former Gov. Jim Gibbons, including budget bills and a measure recognizing same-sex domestic partnerships.

But even in that record-setting session, all veto overrides were done in the same year; lawmakers declined to take up any of the eight bills vetoed after the end of the legislative session when they reconvened two years later.

In total, there have only been ten gubernatorial veto overrides in a subsequent legislative session in Nevada history, with the last coming in 1983 and five occurring prior to 1900. It’s a tally that could possibly increase in 2019 session based on the new makeup and party breakdown in the Legislature.

Of the 15 bills set to be returned to the state Legislature when it gavels into session in February, six of them received affirmative votes from Republican Assembly members now elected to the state Senate, improving the usually slim chances of a veto override.

But Democratic legislative leaders say they’re hesitant to commit to any course of action at this point, and don’t want to start off the session with a series of contentious votes. Here’s a look at how the veto override process works and which Sandoval vetoes could be reversed next year.

Veto 101

Just like the president and Congress, the governor of Nevada is granted the ability to veto legislation approved by the state Legislature.

Typically, if a bill is vetoed during the course of a normal 120-day session, it is returned to its house of origin (either Assembly or Senate) for further action, and legislative leaders can then decide to either bring the vetoed measure up for an override vote or take no action, allowing the veto to hold and the bill to die. A successful veto override requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature.

But if the governor vetoes bills after the conclusion of the Legislature, the rejected bills are then required to be filed with the secretary of state and transmitted to the Legislature during its next legislative session.

Under legislative rules (which are subject to change every session), both the Assembly and Senate require vetoed bills returned to the Legislature by the secretary of state to be “taken up and considered immediately” when they are received. Transmittal of vetoed bills from the secretary of state typically occurs in the first few days of the new legislative session.

The bills can also be made subject to a “special order,” which allows them to be pushed back to a later date. Unlike voter-submitted initiative petitions to change state law, there’s no strict deadline to deal with a vetoed bill from a prior legislative session, but most vetoed bills are dealt with relatively soon after the Legislature is called into session.

Regardless, legislative rules for both houses require the vetoed bills and any veto message released by the governor to be read in full by the Chief Clerk of the Assembly or Chair of the Senate without interruption, consecutively and not on separate occasions. Both rules hold that the bills are not allowed to be referred to a legislative committee or amended on the floor.

It isn’t clear whether lawmakers have the ability to amend the effective date of vetoed legislation approved in the previous session, but overridden bills in the 1981, 1977 and 1965 sessions were made effective on the date they were enrolled with the secretary of state’s office soon after the successful override vote.

Override chances

Assuming both parties vote as blocs, Democrats will have more than a two-thirds majority in the state Assembly and are one vote short of a two-thirds majority in the state Senate, after Republican Keith Pickard won by a narrow 28 votes over Democratic candidate Julie Pazina.

During the 2017 legislative session, Pickard broke with his colleagues to vote in favor of a handful of bills that would later be vetoed by Sandoval, including measures raising the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 40 percent by 2030, phasing out use of private prisons in the state and controlling the price of out-of-network emergency bills.

In an interview Monday, Pickard said he hadn’t really considered the vetoed bills in the nearly two years since he last cast a vote, and declined to say whether or not he would vote for them again in 2019. Pickard said he assessed each bill based on its merits and would do the same in the next session.

“Any vote that I cast, I did so based on my assessment of the bill on the time,” he said. “And as time has passed, more information has come to light, including the governor’s explanation of why he issued the veto in the first place.”

Other vetoed bills that Pickard supported in 2017 include a measure requiring criminal complaints generally be filed within 72 hours after an arrest, and another that would recognize UNLV as a land-grant institution.

Republican Assemblyman Ira Hansen, who won election to the state Senate in 2018, also broke party ranks last session and voted in favor of a measure vetoed by Sandoval after the close of the legislative session granting more authority to the Legislative Commission — the interim body that meets when legislators are out of session — to suspend or nullify regulations by state agencies. Hansen did not return a call on Monday seeking comment on whether he’d support the bill again.

But it appears unlikely that legislative leaders will proceed with any push to override Sandoval’s last set of vetoes as governor. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson said he would consider whether or not to bring up the five vetoed bills that Pickard voted for at a caucus meeting this weekend, but didn’t want to start of the 120-day session with a likely acrimonious, mostly-party line series of votes.

“My preference would not be to set the tone of the Legislature like that,” he said.

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson also said it was unlikely the vetoed bills would come up for an override vote.

“We are looking forward to working with Governor-Elect Sisolak on a shared agenda that works for the people of Nevada to address better health care, public education and reliance on renewable energy,” he said in a text message. “Rather than look back at 2017, I think we need to move forward with advancing an agenda that supports families and hard working Nevadans in partnership with our next Governor.”

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