With veto override, W.Va. GOP could trump governor

By JONATHAN MATTISE CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — As Republicans take control of the West Virginia Legislature for the first time in eight decades, everything they pass will head to Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for his approval. They won't necessarily need it, though.West Virginia is one of a few states only requiring a simple majority of lawmakers — more "yes" than "no" votes — to override the governor's veto. In West Virginia, the mark only applies to policy bills. Nixing a budget bill veto needs two-thirds of lawmakers to approve.A similar setup in Arkansas — Republican General Assembly, Democratic governor and only a simple majority required to override — has allowed controversial proposals to become law, despite Gov. Mike Beebe's disapproval. Since 2012, the Arkansas GOP rebuked the governor on a voter ID law, a tax credit for natural gas drillers and two abortion restrictions, including a 12-week ban that a federal judge ruled unconstitutional.Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee are the only other states where a simple majority suffices, according to The Council on State Governments. Most states require a two-thirds vote to negate any veto, which the West Virginia GOP can't reach without Democrats crossing party lines. In the House of Delegates, Republicans lead 64-36, and the margin is 18-16 in the Senate. Aside from some tax breaks, West Virginia Republicans haven't spelled out their agenda yet. But leaders are likely to pass a version of an abortion ban Tomblin vetoed last session. They mention tort reform and repealing the state's Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act as strong possibilities. "If the majority of the members of the House and Senate felt strongly enough about a measure to pass it, I would think it be likely there would be that same support to override a veto," said Del. Tim Armstead, a Kanawha County Republican and likely House speaker.Many Republicans also want to make West Virginia a right-to-work state and eliminate the prevailing wage paid to contractors on public construction projects. One GOP delegate, John Overington, has tried reintroducing the death penalty for 28 straight years. And plenty of the GOP takes issue with the Common Core educational standards.It's still unclear which of those proposals will be in play.But if Republicans want to move bills blocked by Democrats for years, they can't wait until the last minute.The governor has five days to sign or veto a passed bill during the 60-day legislative session, the next of which starts in January. Lawmakers need time to bring the bill back and pass it again. And once session ends, only the governor can call lawmakers back before the next one starts in the following winter."We're not going to worry so much about the cocktail parties the first 30 days," said Sen. Bill Cole, a Mercer County Republican expected to win the Senate presidency. "We're going to get right to work."That doesn't mean everything is going to turn into a partisan spat, Republican leaders and Tomblin's office said. Both sides say they want to work together to find common ground before engaging in veto-and-override exchanges.Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman said the governor respects the simple majority requirement, and isn't going to pass judgment on any bill until he sees its final version."Throughout his career, Governor Tomblin has supported bipartisan, collaborative solutions to meet the challenges we face as a state," said Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman, "and he remains committed to working with members of both parties to continue to move West Virginia forward." Last year, even Democrats overwhelmingly supported a controversial 20-week abortion ban. Tomblin, who touts his anti-abortion record, vetoed the measure due to constitutionality concerns. It resembles a law struck down in Arizona that the U.S. Supreme Court later decided not to reconsider.Armstead said he still thinks the bill is constitutional. He said he wants to work with Tomblin to find a middle ground, but doesn't think the caucus would support the 24-week ban that the governor indicated he would sign."I believe there would be stronger support for ensuring that that bill becomes law," Armstead said.

By: Jonathan Mattise