End-of-year Vetoes Produce Strange Results, Bedfellows and Laws.
WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NY — December 30, 2019 — For example, in January 1995, Gov. George Pataki’s first official legislative act was to veto a bill sponsored by Sen. George Pataki. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that a bill to allow citizens to sue for environmental violations, which he got passed through the Senate to burnish his environmental credentials, was highly unpopular with the business community, which supported him in 1994.
Why, you ask, did it reach his desk rather than that of the previous governor, Mario Cuomo? Well, the constitution says that if a bill is sent to an outgoing governor after Dec. 21 and no action is taken, it can be signed or vetoed by the incoming governor. So the bill was sent later in December and voila, a veto.
It was too cute and not fair. A new governor gets a honeymoon. Not this time. I should know: I was the Assembly sponsor who decided to force Pataki to confront the political consequences of the conflict between his personal pro-environment inclinations and the hard politics of his victory over Cuomo.
It was unkind and I regretted it even back then.
But strange late vetoes still walk among us. How about the veto by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of a bill to allow federal judges to perform weddings? “I cannot in good conscience support legislation that would authorize such actions by (Trump-appointed) federal judges. … President Trump does not embody who we are as New Yorkers. Based on these reasons, I must veto this bill. Based on these reasons, I must veto this bill.” Yes, he said it twice.
In a state where fake ministers can officiate, it’s hard to see this as anything but a pander to the anti-Trump base. But he can do it.
Harder to explain is the veto of a bill to deal with pharmacy benefit managers, which are used to keep down the cost of health care (a good thing) by denying coverage and riding the small community-based pharmacies (a bad thing). The bill was crafted carefully and did a number of reasonable things. In the battle between cost containment and consumer access, a thorough explanation might or might not have been persuasive. That’s yet to come. And things like legalizing electric scooters and charitable bail programs were vetoed as well.
Some of the vetoes are an exercise in executive concern over technical or language deficiencies. I had a couple of those as well. A friendly governor will sign such a bill on a promise of a new statute curing the defect. An unfriendly one doesn’t do that.
Cuomo has so far vetoed more than 160 bills, which appears to be a record for him. He’s wielding his veto pen more strongly than usual. This is the first year of Democratic control of both houses of the Legislature, after all.
There are controversial elements to the timing of vetoes, and there are political as well as policy considerations, as there should be, and it is certainly an entertaining sport handicapping winners and losers. But even when there are good objections to particular vetoes, the ability of a governor to reject a law, subject to a two-thirds legislative override, is a good thing. It’s a check on the Legislature and works well.
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Richard Brodsky is a former state Assembly member.
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Original publication by Times-Union on December 29, 2019