With a show of legislative moxie that hasn't occurred in at least 21 years, the Virginia House of Delegates voted today to override a gubernatorial veto.
The House vote of 61 to 27 came one day after Gov. John N. Dalton vetoed a bill that would allow optometrists to dispense certain drugs. Dalton claimed that optometrists, who are not physicians, could make mistakes in prescribing drugs that "could bring tragic and irreversible results."
The Senate, which passed the optometrist bill 24 to 14 earlier in the session, is expected to vote Thursday on the override issue. At least two-thirds must vote to override for the bill to become law.
Sen. Willard J. Moody (D-Ports-mouth), the Senate Democratic caucus chairman, said after the House override vote that the Senate caucus will meet Thursday to decide whether Democrats should take a party stand on the veto in the Senate.
"The bill has nothing to do with party," Moody said, "but there is some feeling that the governor has vetoed too many bills and that he should not block the majority will of the assembly."
House Majority Leader A.L. Philpott (D-Henry) said the vote to override, the first he could recall in either house of the legislature since 1958, passed because "the governor shouldn't have vetoed a bill that we passed twice." The House passed the same bill last year, but had no chance to override Dalton because his veto came after the session had adjourned.
The bill's sponsor, Del. Frank M. Slayton (D-Halifax) urged early passage of the bill this year so Dalton would be forced to act before the session ended.
The bill will allow optometrists to use certain drugs in administering eye examinations.
The override vote is "extremely rare" in Virginia, according to A.E. Dick Howard, a professor of law at the University of Virginia. Howard, who recently completed a study of the General Assembly, said that since the mid-1920s there are records of only two vetoes being overridden by the General Assembly.
"There is this aura of gentlemenliness in the legislature that leads to cooperation between the governors and the lawmakers," Howard said.
Philpott said there have not been more votes to override a governor's veto because the veto rarely comes during the session. The governor has seven days to act on a bill if he receives it during the session; after the session he has 30 days.
Philpott said the vote to override the Republican governor's veto by a House controlled by Democrats was not politically motivated.