Column: Governor’s First Vetoes and Ongoing Supreme Court Battle

Column: Governor’s First Vetoes and Ongoing Supreme Court Battle


The 2016 General Assembly will be wrapping up its work this week, and of the more than 3,200 bills and resolutions that were introduced, over 1,350 pieces of legislation have passed both chambers. Those bills are now on their way to Governor McAuliffe’s desk, who has 7 or 30 days to act on them depending on how close to the end of session they passed. The Governor has approved many of these measures but he has also issued vetoes for a handful of bills that he believes are unnecessary or unconstitutional.

One notable piece of legislation that the Governor vetoed is SB21, which would require the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to receive approval from the General Assembly before submitting a Virginia-specific plan to comply with the federal Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP is an historic and important step in combating climate change by establishing standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. It will put into place the first-ever national standards to limit carbon pollution from power plants which account for nearly 40 percent of the carbon pollution produced nationally. The CPP goes hand in hand with efforts in the development of renewables, stronger fuel economy standards, and increased energy efficiency that seek to address climate change, as well as provide improvements in air and water quality that have more immediate local effects. In his veto statement, the Governor noted that federal law gives authority to the executive rather than legislative branch in developing plans to comply with CPP, adding that SB21 “constitutes legislative participation in a purely executive process.” Senate Democrats were successful in sustaining the veto so SB21 will not become law.

A prolonged fight has been brewing since the summer regarding Governor McAuliffe’s nomination of Jane Roush to the Virginia Supreme Court, and last week it came to a head. Justice Roush, who is unquestionably qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, has handled many tough cases including the D.C. sniper trial, and the Republican House Courts of Justice Committee chairman had originally recommended her for this position. However, House and Senate Republicans were offended that the Governor exercised his constitutional authority to appoint her without their permission, and they have repeatedly attempted to block her nomination and replace her with their own candidate. Though Senate Republicans have a narrow 21-19 majority, there has been a stalemate so far this session because one of their freshman members bravely refused to go along with his party’s plan to unseat Justice Roush. Her interim appointment has now expired and there was a renewed push this week to confirm her for a full term; unfortunately that effort fell short in the House of Delegates. Leaving one of the seven seats on our state’s highest court vacant has major ramifications in terms of its ability to execute its constitutional responsibilities, and I hope we will reconsider and elect Justice Roush to a full 12-year term so our judiciary can be at full strength.

It is my continued honor to represent the citizens of the 30th Senate District.