Virginia lawmakers sustain McAuliffe vetoes

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WAVY)) — Gov. Terry McAuliffe has successfully vetoed two religious expression bills and legislation that would have granted people who receive red-light tickets the right to contest citations in circuit court.

The Virginia Senate voted Wednesday to uphold McAuliffe’s vetoes during a one-day legislative meeting commonly referred to as the “veto session.”

McAuliffe had vetoed a bill that would have codified a student’s right to pray at school. Another would have prohibited censorship of sermons given by chaplains of the Virginia National Guard.

“Today the General Assembly moved the legislative session forward by acting on the vetoes and amendments that I made to the bills they passed earlier this year,” McAuliffe said following the session. “I was glad to see the Senate of Virginia uphold each of my 4 vetoes, and the entire General Assembly accept a majority of the amendments that I submitted to legislation.”

The Democratic governor argued that state law already protects religious expression, and the proposed legislation could impinge upon students’ rights to be “free from coercive prayer” and expose National Guard members “to sectarian proselytizing.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia praised the Democratically controlled Senate’s votes, while the conservative Family Foundation condemned them.

The Senate voted to uphold McAuliffe’s veto of a red-light camera bill, missing by one vote the two-thirds majority needed to override.

The bill had previously passed the upper chamber 38-1. The House voted 99-0 to pass the bill earlier this year and voted 78-19 Wednesday to override the veto.

McAuliffe said he vetoed the bill because he feared the state’s circuit courts would be overwhelmed by citizens challenging tickets issued by red-light cameras. But Senate Republican Leader Thomas K. Norment of James City accused McAuliffe of vetoing the bill because he’s annoyed with its sponsor.

The bill’s patron, Del. Johnny S. Joannou of Portsmouth, is the only Democratic lawmaker who doesn’t support McAuliffe’s top legislative priority: expanding Medicaid eligibility.

“He’s being sent a message,” Norment said.

A spokesman for the governor said Norment is incorrect.

For his part, Joannou shrugged off the veto.

“It’ll pass again next year,” he said. He added that he thinks lawmakers who voted to uphold the veto will have difficulty explaining their position to their constituents.

The General Assembly did not take up the state’s proposed $96 billion two-year budget. Republicans and Democrats remain deadlocked on whether the budget should include expanding Medicaid eligibility to about 400,000 low-income residents. State government could shut down if no budget is passed by July 1.

“I am disappointed that my amendments on bills with a fiscal impact were rejected. Without a budget, I felt it was the fiscally responsible course of action to take,” McAuliffe said. “Due to the General Assembly’s failure to pass a budget, each of these bills represents an unfunded commitment of taxpayer dollars. Over the next thirty days, I will carefully evaluate each of these bills, particularly if the legislative budget stalemate persists.”

At a news conference, Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw of Fairfax accused Republican lawmakers who oppose Medicaid but have state-funded health insurance of being hypocritical. On the House floor, Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, accused McAuliffe of “extorting” the entire state by insisting on a budget that includes expanding Medicaid eligibility.

“I want to thank the legislators for returning and honoring their commitment to Virginians by acting on the vetoes and amendments I proposed,” McAuliffe said. “I hope that they will continue to fulfill their responsibility to Virginia families by passing a state budget that closes the healthcare coverage gap as soon as possible.”

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