Virginia Gov. Mills E. Godwin today began vetoing legislation passed by the 1977 General Assembly, killing bills that would eliminate the state's so-called "no-knock" search warrants, soften penalties for habitual traffic offenders and give new appeal rights to persons denied drivers' licenses because of poor vision.
Godwin had killed two similar bills last year when he vetoed 42 measures, believed to be a record number of vetoes by a Virginia governor.
Although Godwin aides had hinted the governor might be be more willing to accept legislation passed a second time, his actions today did not indicate he is more receptive to the bills dealing with the search warrants and traffic offenders.
In a statement, Godwin noted he was vetoing the bills for "the same reasons" he killed similar legislation last year.
Under Virginia's no-knock search warrant law, police are permitted, under court orders, to enter a home or business without first announcing their presence. Although a spokesman for the state attorney general's office said today the warrants have been used "infrequently," police groups have maintained they are essential to obtain evidence that might otherwise be destroyed during raids.
Godwin, a former FBI agent, claimed that to approve the bill, sponsored by Del. Theodore V. Morrison (D-Newport News), would be "to deny law enforcement officers with a proper search warrant of this means of executing it." And that would "tie their hands, contrary to the public interest," he said.
Morrison could not be reached for comment, but sponsors of the other two bills vetoed said they were surprised by Godwin's actions.
Neither Del. John L. Melnick (D-Arlington) nor Del. William T. Wilson (D-Alleghany) said they realized their bills were in trouble until Godwin's office called them this morning. None of the three bills killed today was listed among the eight that Godwin had said earlier he may veto.
"It really indicates we have no separation of powers between the executive and legislative" branches of government, complained Melnick, who had sponsored the bill that would have softened penalties for habitual traffic offenders. His bill would have cut the sentence served by persons declared habitual offenders from one to five years in the state prison system to 12 months in a local jail.
Melnick claimed the measure would have released 53 men from state prison, freeing space for more serious felons who are being housed in local jails because of crowded conditions.
Godwin, however, did not accept Melnick's reasoning, the Northern Virginia legislator conceded today. In his veto message, Godwin spoke of the need to punish habitual traffic offenders.
"When an individual has been adjudged a habitual offender by the court and continues to operate a motor vehicle without a license, he does so in total disregard for the rights of others using the highways and should be punished accordingly," Godwin said.