Posted 2/18/2013 07:25 am
Updated 4 months ago
LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe isn't shy about saying when he thinks lawmakers are advancing bad bills. He's called a proposal to cap the state's spending growth "awful," a ban on most abortions in Arkansas "patently unconstitutional" and has questioned the need for a new voter ID law.
With Republicans controlling the state Legislature for the first time in 138 years, Beebe faces his toughest test yet. A veteran legislator and two-term Democratic governor who has used his veto stamp sparingly, Beebe has already spoken out against several GOP-backed measures that appear to have an easy path to approval, but he won't say whether he'll veto them if they reach his desk.
"Part of the reason I give you the same answer on this stuff, one of the reasons, is to keep options open," Beebe told reporters last week. "Another reason is these people need to have responsibility for what they do without cover from me. They don't need a free ride."
The other reason for Beebe's reluctance to issue veto threats comes down to numbers. In Arkansas, it takes only a simple majority to override a governor's veto. Republicans hold 51 of the 100 House seats and 21 of the 35 Senate seats.
"I think that would make any governor think twice about vetoing a bill," House Republican Leader Bruce Westerman said. Westerman said he'd be surprised if Beebe vetoes any bills this session, noting that Beebe was in the state Senate for 20 years and often talks about his respect for the legislative process.
Under Democratic control, the legislative process was a smooth ride for Beebe. Beebe has vetoed 10 bills since taking office, with no attempts by lawmakers to override them.
Eight vetoes came during his first regular session in 2007, including six bills that he said would have violated the Constitution's ban on strictly local projects. The last veto he issued was a line-item veto in 2011 of a proposal to transfer $60,000 from the state's Crime Information Center to the Economic Development Commission.
In the past, bills Beebe has objected to early in a session have won approval in one chamber but been defeated in committees. The governor this year has negotiated changes in other bills, signing into law a measure allowing concealed handguns in churches after follow-up legislation was filed to address the concerns from some clergy about liability and notification issues.
Beebe last week said he'd likely sign into law a proposal to allow faculty and staff to carry concealed weapons on campus after it was amended to let public universities opt out.
Tweaks to other measures Beebe's objected to may not be enough, however. The House is expected to vote this week on a bill that would keep secret a list of Arkansans permitted to carry concealed weapons. Beebe opposes the bill and says it against a compromise reached four years ago that limited the release of some licensee information.
Beebe has also said changes to a proposal that would ban most abortions 12 weeks into a pregnancy aren't enough to address his complaint that the restriction is unconstitutional. He's also warned that a Republican-backed House bill to cap the state's spending growth at 3 percent annually would "wreak havoc" on the state's budget system.
He's stopped short of saying whether he opposes legislation requiring voters to show photo ID, but has noted state law already requires poll workers to ask for identification anyway.
Those disagreements, however, have been tame compared to the ones between former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee and Democratic lawmakers. During Huckabee's first session in 1997, the majority-Democrat Legislature overrode 10 of his 16 vetoes.
Republican lawmakers say they hope to work out any differences with Beebe before legislation reaches his desk, but say they're not afraid of sending the governor bills he may reject.
"I think a veto has a lot of worth. I think a veto threat probably does not," Senate President Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, said. "I don't think the Legislature would not pass a piece of legislation simply because someone threatens to veto it."
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