When Virginians got the complete list of Gov. Mills E. Godwin's vetoes last week and read the sometimes outraged reactions of General Assembley members, certain lessons in government became clear.
One lesson is that everyone loves a system of checks and balance until they find themselves checked or balanced.
Another is that the veto check in Virginia too often is a checkmate simply because the state constitution makes no provision of overriding vetoes after an Assembly adjourns that most bills are acted upon by the governor.
The long process of providing for ligislative review of all vetoes began this year and certainly ought to continue. The Assembly proposed a constitutional amendment that will permit the legislators to reconvene and vote again on bills that the governor vetoes after their regular session.
To write this provision in the constitution, the Assembly will have to pass it again next year and the state's voters will have to approve it in the 1978 general election.
Godwin said at a press conference last week that he has no objections to the proposed amendment, but contended that it would not be necessary if the legislators simply would take final action on their bills in time to submit them to the governor at least seven days before a regular Assembly session adjourns.
His argument rested on the fact that the constitution now requires a governor to act on bills within seven days of their submission to him if the Assembly is still meeting.
As a practical matter, the seven-day rule will never cover most bills and Mills Godwin, after 25 years in the Assembly and governor's office, knows that better than most. Even if the legislature achieved the miracle of completing action on all bills a week before adjournment, the last minute avalanche of legislation into the governor's office would hardly permit careful consideration of vetoes.
Godwin himself would have been well served by a veto override session this year on at least one important bill - the legislation imposing a 10-year moratorium on annexation by cities of county areas.
The bill was passed late in the session after elaborate intended to end years of conflict between cities and counties failed by a narrow margin in the senate.
Godwin did not want to sign the micratorium because it postpones solution of long-standing urban problems or another decade. Failure to sign it, however, would have invited a new round of divisive annexation suits throughout the state. He finally approved it after extracting promises from county representatives that they will consider modifications of the mortorium next year.
If the proposed override amendment had been in the constitution, the governor could have sent the moratorium bill back to the assembly during is three-day session with an amendment shortening duration of the bar against annexation suits. It most likely would have passed by the simple majority required because county representatives almost certainly could not have mustered the two-thirds maority needed to override a veto.
The absence of an apportunity to override intensifies the anger of legislators who have successfully fought all battles necessary to get a bill approved by 140 Assembly members and then find themselves without recourse in the face of an executive veto.
Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan (D-Fairfax) said he was "truly outraged at the tactics followed by the governor" when Godwin vetoed his bill requiring financial disclosure by more public officials. Gartlan was told of the forthcoming veto only hours before the bill signing deadline and had no chance to rally proponents of the bill to make their case to Godwin.
It is usually, however, that Godwin would have changed his mind since he has a deep-seated feeling that expanded disclosure proposals like one in the Gartlan bill are unjustified invasions of the privacy of public officials, especially citizen members of boards and commissions.
All but three of the 20 bills vetoed for policy reasons were in fact passed by margins sufficient to override, but this could be a misleading indictation of gubernatorial obstruction of the legislative will.
By the time a bill reaches final passage stage, it usually is clear from committee votes and preliminary floor tests that it will pass. Many legislators simply line up with the winning aide on the final vote out of indifference ot to avoid upsetting the sponsor of the bill unnecessarily.
The fact that Godwin vetoed only 20 bills out of 79 sent to him shows a good deal of restraint. He has often said he signs bills he would not vote for. If the post-session override amendment is finally approved, future governmentlikely will make more use of vetoes and certainly will send many more bills back with suggested amendments.
This should contribute to the refinement of the outline casual legislative process on Virginia and is just another reason to push ahead with the override amendment.