“Veto Day” is a tradition in Texas. By constitutional law, the governor has 20 days (excluding Sundays) to issue vetoes once the legislative session adjourns. Monday will be the moment when Abbott puts through what is likely to be a sweeping round of vetoes.
First, some explanation on the nature of the veto in our state. Texas, like forty-three other states, has a line-item veto system. In our specific case, the governor can strike-through any item of any bill that relates to appropriations. Though this technically limits the power of the veto, in practice it means the governor has a de facto no over anything that deals with state money.
If the governor vetoes a bill, in whole or part, while the state congress is in session, the congress can override it with a two-thirds vote. This is one of the reasons governors wait until the last minute to use the veto. It’s not clear in the Texas constitution whether congress can override a governor’s veto in a subsequent special session. What legal analysis has been done on the matter points to no, but the question has never been tested.
Abbott is a prolific veto user, even though his party has controlled the legislature during his entire time in office. He averages 51 vetoes per legislative session, the highest of any governor in Texas history. Only Preston Smith and Rick Perry has vetoed more in a single session, the latter with a whopping 83.
It’s probably fair to expect at least 45 vetoes from Abbott. He’s already done one, Senate Bill 813. It was a minor bill about insurance premiums for historical sites whose own author asked for the veto so it would not conflict with a similar bill in the House.
The most egregious use of the veto possibly comes from Abbott’s threat to cut the line in the Texas budget that pays for its congress. Abbott was furious over the dramatic walkout of Democrats regarding the voter rights restriction bill that killed its chances of passing the final days of the legislative session. Abbott’s threat is seen by legal scholars as an incredible act of overreach. The only thing even comparable to such an act was when Preston Smith vetoed the entire budget and asked the legislature to start over in a special session. He, however, was not trying to actively punish lawmakers who thwarted him.
It’s not clear how much damage Abbott’s veto would even do if he follows through. Texas already has the second-lowest paid (set by year) legislature in the country.
After the gruesome mass shooting in Austin, some lawmakers have been petitioning Abbott to reconsider the recently passed permitless carry law. The shooting spree happened when two juveniles got into an argument and began shooting at each other on Austin’s Sixth Street. Though minors are not protected by the new law, lawmakers feel that the “wild west” nature of its intent will spark similar incidences.
“I understand how difficult a decision this must be for you… but many Texans will see this as a seal of approval on the practice of solving disputes with guns, and I am sure that is not the message you intend to send,” said State Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin) in a letter to the governor. Abbott is unlikely to veto the bill, as making Texas a “Second Amendment sanctuary” was one of his stated goals in his State of the State address earlier this year.
Abbott has been especially cagey about what the next few months will look like in Texas governance. All that is known for sure is that the legislature will be back for a special session regarding the redistricting process once the Census is formally released. As the fighting between the top Republican leadership gets nastier, it’s unclear whether Abbott will try to de-escalate tensions with fewer vetoes or take the legislature to the line with aggressive moves. He has a lot he still wants to get done this year, and too many vetoes might antagonize his party right when he needs them.