Haslam Expresses Little Interest in Using Veto This Session

In Tennessee the governor’s veto power is so weak there’s usually little point in using it, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday.

“One of the things you have to consider in my deal is it just takes one vote to override a veto,” Haslam told reporters Monday after an event on combating hunger at a Nashville Wal-Mart. “And so, if something passes overwhelmingly, you do have to take that into consideration in terms of the will of Legislature.

“In the end, if I felt like the bill was bad for Tennessee, then I would veto it. If I felt like maybe it wasn’t bad for Tennessee, but it just added confusion to a situation, maybe I just wouldn’t sign it in that case. But if I felt like a bill was bad for Tennessee, I just wouldn’t sign it, regardless of how it had been supported,” he said.

Asked if his statement was a contradiction, his staff clarified that for legislation he believes is “bad for Tennessee,” his position is to veto it.

The governor has the constitutional authority to veto bills and send them back to the Legislature. However, lawmakers only need to scrounge up a simple majority to override his veto and put the bill into law. It’s the same standard needed to pass a bill.

The governor also has the option to let the bill go into law without his signature, a symbolic gesture that he doesn’t endorse the measure.

Most states require a two-thirds or three-fifths legislative vote to override a veto. Only six states require a simple majority to trump the governor; the others are Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Haslam’s Democratic predecessor, Gov. Phil Bredesen, refused to sign 32 bills during his eight-year tenure. He issued eight vetoes, three of which the Legislature overrode. Most of his vetoes came during his second term.

Haslam is now sitting on a bill, SB893, that would protect teachers from disciplinary action for exploring criticisms of biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning. The measure has earned national attention and about 3,200 signatures on a petition urging him to veto the measure.

The measure passed 72-23 in the House and 25-8 in the Senate. Haslam has said he’ll probably sign it.

“It didn’t just barely pass the House and Senate. It passed three-to-one in the House and the Senate, so you take that into account as well,” Haslam said.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who began leading the Senate under Gov. Phil Bredesen, said he expects the governor will go along with the Legislature on that bill, and just about all others.

“At a time like now when the governor is of the same party as a majority in both houses, you shouldn’t have to use veto power very often,” said Ramsey. He said the leaders “talk things out” before the bill ever heads to the governor’s desk.

“That bill was so watered down, it didn’t mean anything at the time it passed other than give some instruction to teachers on what to teach and on what not to teach. I don’t see that will be a problem. I think he’ll sign in,” said Ramsey.