Explainer: What It Takes to Secure Rare Gubernatorial Veto Override In NJ …

John Reitmeyer | November 17, 2015 | Explainer
… and why lawmakers are on the verge of doing it for the first time in nearly 20 years

explainer button shadow
Lawmakers in the state Assembly are planning in a few weeks to hold a vote to accomplish something that hasn’t happened in New Jersey in nearly two decades: A successful override of a gubernatorial veto in both houses of the Legislature.

New Jersey’s constitution gives the governor broad powers, and there’s only one way for lawmakers to directly overrule a governor who issues a veto, no matter how easily the bill cleared the Legislature in the first place. To secure an override, the constitution requires lawmakers to muster up support against the veto from two-thirds of each house of the Legislature.

That means getting 27 votes in the 40-member Senate, and another 54 votes in the 80-member Assembly.

Veto overrides have been a rare occurrence in recent years, with the last one coming in 1997. That year, a Republican-controlled Legislature voted to override Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman’s rejection of a bill that sought to ban procedures known as partial-birth abortions.

Christie, a Republican who took office in early 2010, had never suffered a successful override in either house despite dealing with a Legislature controlled by Democrats until last month.

His string was broken when the Senate voted 27-12 in favor of overriding Christie’s veto of a bill that seeks to change state rules for those who’ve been committed to a mental-health institution but now want to buy a gun. Before that vote, Democratic legislative leaders fell short on more than 50 previous attempts to override, on issues ranging from Port Authority reform to increasing rights for superstorm Sandy victims.

To finish off the override of Christie on the mental-health gun bill, a vote has been scheduled for December 3 in the Assembly. And there are several factors that give the Assembly override attempt a good chance of prevailing.
Concerns about gun violence in the wake of several high-profile mass shootings that have occurred across the country this year have elevated the issue in recent months.

[related]Christie’s unpopularity in New Jersey has also grown as he shifts further to the right while seeking the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination. This puts him out of sync with GOP voters in New Jersey, who tend to be more moderate than those in early presidential voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Last month’s Assembly elections — all 80 seats were up for grabs — also sent a signal to lawmakers. Voters decided to give the Democrats four more seats including one in the 16th District, where gun violence and the veto override became a campaign issue.

Democrats hold a 24-16 margin in the Senate, and they needed three votes from Republicans to accomplish last month’s successful override. Those votes came from Sens. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Monmouth), Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Somerset), and Christopher Connors (R-Ocean).

In the Assembly, Democrats hold a 48-32 margin, meaning they will need six votes from the other side of the aisle to overcome Christie’s veto. And a handful of Republicans have already signaled they plan to vote along with the Democrats.

The original legislation that Christie rejected over the summer seeks to update a New Jersey law enacted in 2013 that requires the state to provide mental-health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The system is used by firearms dealers to verify whether someone is eligible to buy a gun.

A previous hospitalization in a mental-health institution can be grounds to find someone ineligible to purchase a gun. But New Jersey’s judges can also remove or “expunge” the record of a mental-health commitment from the background-check system if that person is later deemed to be “unlikely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety.”

The measure came out of a state Judiciary recommendation to link judges with police departments, who typically know more about a person’s recent criminal history and whether they have any pending charges.

Sponsored by Sen. Fred Madden (D-Gloucester), the bill would trigger automatic notification of law enforcement when someone is seeking to have their mental-health record amended for the purposes of buying a gun. It passed both houses of the Legislature in unanimous votes earlier this year, but Christie issued a conditional veto in August saying he favors more comprehensive mental-health reforms.

Christie’s veto came just months after the official launch of his presidential campaign, and as he’s faced criticism from some in the Republican Party who consider any limitation on gun ownership an infringement of rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.