130 | Republicans disappointed, but not surprised
The Legislature failed to override any of Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s vetoes during the 2011 session to keep his perfect record intact of never having had a veto overturned since becoming governor in 2005, the latest tallies showed Thursday.
The Democratic governor prevailed in all 17 post-session override polls on the bills he vetoed after receiving them after the 2011 Legislature adjourned, according to the official tallies conducted by Secretary of State Linda McCulloch’s office.
Under state law, vetoes issued after the Legislature adjourns are subject to mail override polls, but only if at least 100 senators and representatives combined to vote for the bills during the session.
Overriding a veto takes two-thirds majority votes of both the House and Senate — 67 votes in the 100-member House and 34 in the 50-member Senate.
Put another way, 34 votes in the House or 17 in the Senate can sustain, or back up, a governor’s veto.
While Republicans’ huge 68-32 majority was potentially enough to override vetoes in the House, the Senate was another story. Republicans had a 28-22 margin over Democrats in the Senate, but there were enough Democrats to sustain Schweitzer’s vetoes.
“I focused on the Senate,” Schweitzer said. “Once I get to 17 votes (to sustain), I’m there.”
Votes by legislators are still coming into the secretary of state’s office, but they won’t change the outcome because Schweitzer has at least 17 Senate votes to sustain his vetoes of the 17 bills.
Schweitzer said he received an unusually high number of bills for his consideration after the Legislature adjourned.
“A lot of these bills I vetoed I could have cleaned up if I had received them earlier,” Schweitzer said.
In response to the vetoes being sustained, Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, said, “I don’t know that it’s a surprise. It’s kind of a disappointment. Some of those bills passed by big margins.”
Altogether, Schweitzer issued 130 vetoes during the 2011 session, including 78 outright vetoes. He also had four line-item vetoes to spending bills and 48 amendatory vetoes suggesting changes to bills.
Since 1973-74, the previous high was 71 total vetoes – 19 outright vetoes and 52 amendatory vetoes – issued by Republican Gov. Stan Stephens in 1991. Stephens faced Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, just as Democrat Schweitzer this year was confronted with Republican majorities.
Schweitzer said his toughest task was to get enough lawmakers to back up his veto of Senate Bill 299, by Sen. Bradley Hamlett, D-Cascade, after it passed the Senate 50-0 and the House 98-0.
The bill, as amended, “would have taken away the state ownership of beds of river for all the land that had not yet been adjudicated,” he said. Only portions of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers had been adjudicated so the bill would have affected many miles of other riverbeds throughout the state.
Schweitzer, after conferring with his staff, top officials of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and others, said he decided this “dangerous” bill needed to be vetoed. He said he and his administration faced a major challenge convincing enough legislators that his veto needed to be upheld.
On Thursday, the 17th senator voted against overriding the veto SB299, thus ensuring Schweitzer’s final veto would stand.
As he’s traveled the state in recent weeks urging people prepared for floods, Schweitzer said a large number of Republicans and GOP legislators have thanked him for vetoing some of the bills.