If someone were to count the number of times a certain word was used in this paper over the past few weeks, the top 10 could look something like this: Abortion, Rapert, Ban, Beebe, Veto, Override ... well, you get the idea.
We have heard about the two measures, one of which was sponsored by Conway’s Sen. Jason Rapert, that prohibited abortions after 12 and 20 weeks respectively. They have dominated the state news cycle, and most recently, the national news cycle.
But we are not here to talk about that specifically. We want to discuss the veto power of the Arkansas governor. Actually, the term “veto power” when referring to our state’s leader could be considered an oxymoron.
How many of you knew that, in Arkansas, the veto of a sitting governor can be overridden by a simple majority of both houses? It certainly wasn’t something most of us realized until this past week.
What that means is that a bill that arrives on the governor’s desk has just cleared both houses of the legislature by, guess what? A simple majority. The governor feels for one reason or another to veto the bill. It is now sent back to both houses and can become a law if everyone just votes the same way again. Heck, if the bill passed with 60 percent of the vote, it could still become law with some legislators changing their vote.
That’s precisely what happened with the two abortion-ban bills. Only a simple majority was needed to override the governor’s veto, which begs the question: What’s the point of the veto?
Arkansas is one of seven states to have a simple majority override a veto (the others being Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia). Most states require a two-third’s majority, and the reasoning seems clear: the governor’s position should be merely ceremonial. We realize that the governor has many other duties other than signing laws or vetoing them, but this is one of the reasons why we elected a large number of legislators but only one governor. That office should have some power.
Vetoes are rare. They should only be exercised in instances where the governor feels a bill could be unconstitutional or particularly unwise. But what good is that veto other than for show if everything can go about the same way in spite of it?
Our legislature should have to work harder to override a veto. It should be more than just, “Second verse, same as the first.”