Youngkin vetoes eight bills as Va. assembly wraps up without arena

RICHMOND — Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed legislation to ensure same-sex couples cannot be denied marriage licenses but vetoed eight of the first 84 bills sent to his desk late Friday, with the General Assembly preparing to wrap up its 60-day session Saturday with a snub to his plan for a $2 billion sports arena.

Youngkin (R) announced the vetoes plus amendments to 12 other bills hours before a midnight deadline and two days after leading Democrats agreed to a state budget compromise without provisions for his top priority: a publicly financed arena for the Washington Wizards and Capitals in Alexandria.

Timeline: How the Caps, Wizards arena plan got blocked by Va. lawmakers

The vetoes targeted bills related to firearms, book banning, marijuana, voter rolls, surrogacy, railroad safety and cybersecurity. Youngkin vetoed the bills “to prevent the enactment of laws that would redundantly mirror existing statutes, potentially reverse our advancements in safeguarding election data, and impose excessive regulatory constraints on our Commonwealth,” according to a statement from his office.

The General Assembly will have a chance to override the vetoes and amendments when it reconvenes for its “veto session” April 17.

Democrats say they are bracing for Youngkin to take revenge on many bills after budget negotiators agreed this week to a state spending plan stripped of the arena language. Indeed, at a news conference Youngkin called Friday to express his disappointment that the arena would not be included, he implied that he was in no mood to compromise on bills: “I think this really sets us meaningfully back.”

But Democrats stopped short of attributing his actions on this first batch of bills to the roadblocks they’ve thrown up against the arena — a project Youngkin can revive when legislators reconvene next month or in a special session.

Instead, both parties chalked his actions up to the new power dynamic in Richmond. Democrats took control of both chambers in January, at the midpoint of Youngkin’s four-year term, after flipping the House and holding the Senate in November elections. With House Republicans no longer able to block them, Democrats have the muscle to get most of their priorities to his desk.

That is prompting Youngkin to pull out his veto pen — and forcing him to take a stand on some touchy issues he has managed to dodge until now while trying to court both MAGA Republicans and suburban moderates.

“The governor has a very conservative political ideology, and he has not had a lot of chances to express it, and we’re about to find out how conservative he really is,” Senate Majority Leader Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) said.

House Democrats issued a fiery statement that linked Youngkin’s actions to his endorsement of Donald Trump on Wednesday, one day after the former president easily won Virginia’s GOP presidential primary.

“For the second time this week, the Republican Governor of this Commonwealth showed his allegiance to power hungry MAGA extremists,” it read. “The Governor’s choice to veto and offer overzealous amendments to these critical pieces of legislation will do nothing more than ensure that guns are left in the hands of domestic abusers, restrict access to reproductive health care and threaten our democracy and our voting rights.”

Youngkin, in striking contrast, hit an upbeat tone in a statement included with the list of signed, vetoed and amended bills.

“Today, I am pleased to sign more than 60 bills into law with bipartisan support, a clear demonstration of what can be achieved when we set politics aside and work together for Virginians,” he said. “These bills cover a wide range of topic areas but demonstrate my continuing commitment to lowering the cost of living for Virginians, streamlining regulations, supporting our veterans, ensuring safe communities, and improving government efficiency.”

He voiced hope that legislators will give his amendments “serious consideration” and made no mention of his vetoes, which were explained individually in statements attached to each bill.

The 64 bills Youngkin signed into law were mostly noncontroversial fare, with one exception: a House bill to prohibit public officials who issue marriage licenses from denying them to same-sex or interracial couples. That passed over the objections of nearly every House and Senate Republican. Democrats did not give Youngkin much credit for signing, however, given that same-sex marriage has been legal in Virginia and everywhere else in the country since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized such unions nationwide in a 2015 decision.

“The bill basically requires circuit court clerks to follow the constitution, so I’m happy to see he believes in the rule of law, notwithstanding his recent endorsement of Trump,” Surovell said.

Youngkin signs bills banning legacy preferences at Virginia public colleges

Even so, Youngkin’s approval was notable because he has ducked questions about same-sex marriage. He has asserted — inaccurately — that Virginia law would protect same-sex marriage rights if the Supreme Court ever reversed itself on the subject. In fact, those marriages would be banned under the state constitution in the event of a reversal.

On another tricky subject — firearms — Youngkin amended a House bill meant to reduce the risk of school shootings by requiring school boards to annually notify parents of their responsibility to store any firearms in their homes safely. Youngkin’s amendment attaches a “reenactment clause,” requiring that the bill win passage again next year. It also directs state education officials to create a comprehensive list of parental rights and responsibilities and come up with the best way for distributing it to parents.

Youngkin had only seven days to take action on the 84 bills under a timeline based on when the measures cleared both chambers. He has 30 days to act on about 1,000 more bills sent his way in the session’s home stretch, including the budget and other remaining bills expected to pass in the final hours Saturday.

Among the bills Youngkin vetoed Friday:

  • Identical House and Senate bills requiring that when someone is forced to surrender a firearm because of a protective order, they cannot give the firearm to someone under 21 or someone who lives with them. In addition, the person would have to report the name of the person who took possession of the firearm to the local clerk of the court. Both measures passed their respective chambers on largely party-line votes.
  • A Senate bill requiring that Virginia rejoin the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, a multistate program for sharing election registration data. Virginia had been a founding member of the organization, which is aimed at helping states maintain accurate voter registration rolls. Formed in 2012, ERIC at one point had 33 states as members and was widely praised as an effective way to ensure voter integrity. But last year, several Republican-led states dropped out of the group, claiming concerns about cybersecurity. Youngkin’s administration followed suit, over the objections of Democrats, who said ERIC had set the standard for protecting voter rolls. Virginia immediately entered into agreements with several other states to share voter data outside of ERIC. Youngkin has yet to act on an identical House bill.
  • A House bill to repeal a prohibition against paying for the services of surrogacy brokers — people or firms that arrange for someone to serve as a surrogate parent. The prohibition was intended to prevent women from being coerced into carrying babies for someone else, but supporters of lifting the ban argued that it prevents some people from seeking a surrogate out of fear of prosecution. The bill passed both the House and Senate on party-line votes, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against.
  • A Senate bill specifying that a law passed two years ago requiring school systems to notify parents of books that contain sexually explicit content should not be used to justify bans of any books. The original measure, signed into law by Youngkin, contained an enactment clause cautioning that it should not be used to justify book bans, but that language was not part of the actual law. Since then, several school systems have cited the law as the basis for considering book bans. The anti-banning bill had passed both chambers on largely party-line votes, though a handful of House Republicans joined every Democrat in supporting it. Youngkin has not acted yet on an identical House measure.
  • A House bill that says a child cannot be considered abused and taken from the custody of a parent or guardian solely on the basis of the adult being convicted of possession or consumption of marijuana, a legal substance under Virginia law. The bill passed the House on a largely party-line vote, and passed the Senate with only one no vote. Youngkin has not acted on an identical Senate bill.
  • A House bill to study whether to create a civilian cybersecurity corps to help the state and local governments respond to cybersecurity incidents. It passed the House on a wide bipartisan margin and cleared the Senate unanimously. In his veto statement Youngkin said the plan could conflict with “the established cybersecurity team at the Virginia National Guard.”
  • A Senate bill requiring that freight trains have a minimum of two qualified crew members on board when traveling through the state. Youngkin wrote that the measure, which passed both chambers narrowly, could hinder “technology and innovation,” such as the development of “autonomous rail operations.”

This story is developing and will be updated.

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