By Charles Couch
Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. – The General Assembly last week upheld all six of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s vetoed bills, including one that would have increased fines on Virginia residents with out-of-state license plates.

The assembly reconvened for a one-day session to consider the governor’s vetoes and recommendations regarding legislation passed during the 2012 regular session.

Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate. Legislators’ votes Wednesday fell short of that threshold. As a result, lawmakers sustained all of McDonnell’s vetoes.

The House debated two vetoes in particular: HB 423, requiring the state’s Common Interest Community Board to develop model “declarations,” or regulations, for homeowners associations; and HB 878, increasing the fines on Virginia drivers with out-of-state license plates.

Homeowners Association’s Rules

Delegate David Bulova, D-Fairfax Station, had sponsored HB 423. He said the legislation was needed because homeowners associations have a significant bearing on Virginians’ day-to-day lives.

“I don’t know that you could move anywhere in my district without being a member of a homeowners association and being subject to the declarations and instruments that come with that HOA membership,” Bulova said.

“They’re quasi-governmental units, and they wield enormous amounts of power.” That power can range from regulating paint colors and home additions to imposing fines and liens on residents.

When you buy a house in a neighborhood regulated by a homeowners association, you must join the group and adhere to its declarations, Bulova said. “Declarations are usually put in place long before a homeowner ever moves into a development. When you purchase a new home, the declaration is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.”

Bulova said his bill would not dictate rules for homeowners associations.

“It does not create mandatory regulations,” he said. “But it does require the Common Interest Community Board to establish a best practice and a model declaration that can be used as a gold standard.”

In vetoing HB 423, McDonnell said state law already outlines the minimum components for homeowners associations’ declarations. “While perhaps well intentioned, this bill increases the Common Interest Community Board’s workload without any discernible benefit,” the governor said.

Delegate David Albo, R-Springfield, said he supported the governor’s veto.

“It’s just impossible to come up with model policies when every single homeowners association is different,” Albo said. “So, again it’s a good idea, but it’s unworkable.”

After the debate, the House voted 36-59 against overriding McDonnell’s veto.

Out-of-State License Plates

Delegates later debated the veto of HB 878, proposed by Delegate Mark Sickles, D-Franconia. It targeted Virginians who try to avoid the state law requiring them to obtain Virginia license plates. For instance, many Virginians register their vehicles in Maryland, which doesn’t have a property tax on cars, Sickles said.

The fine for failing to register a vehicle in Virginia is $100, he noted. “It has been $100 since 1988, and it’s not much of an incentive. It is the cost of doing business.”

Sickles’ bill would have increased the fine to $250.

Delegate Benjamin Cline, R-Amherst, urged House members to uphold McDonnell’s veto of HB 878. He said the penalty contained in the bill wasn’t a fine but a tax.

“Make no bones about it – this is a tax,” Cline said. “This is a tax on individuals who do not register their cars in Virginia but who live in Virginia.” Cline said no law in Virginia prevents residents from having out-of-state license plates.

Sickles said that was incorrect. “This is not a new law,” he said. HB 878 simply increases a fine on “tax cheaters” that has not been adjusted since 1988, he said.

The House voted to override McDonnell’s veto, 64-31. But the override motion failed in the Senate. (The Senate vote was 21-16 in favor of overriding the veto. The motion needed 27 votes to pass.)

Voter Identification Recommendations

Besides sustaining the vetoes, the General Assembly reviewed McDonnell’s proposed amendments to more than 100 pieces of legislation.

For example, the governor recommended 10 changes to HB 9 and SB 1, which would require Virginians to show an approved form of identification to cast an official ballot on Election Day. (Currently, people without ID can vote if they sign an affidavit swearing they are registered. Under the legislation, such people would cast a provisional ballot, which would be counted only if they present proper ID by the day after the election.)

McDonnell proposed relaxing parts of the legislation. For instance, he recommended that officials compare the signature on a voter’s provisional ballot with the signature on file with the State Board of Elections. This would negate the need for provisional voters to present an ID to election officials after the election.

Delegate Joseph Morrissey, D-Highland Springs, questioned the feasible of signature comparison. He said that handwriting comparison requires expertise and that signatures change as people age.

“Handwriting identification analysis is a specific discipline that is taught and requires years of training before one can be deemed a handwriting expert,” Morrissey said.

McDonnell also recommended that provisional voters have three days after an election, instead of just one, to submit proper identification so that their ballots would be counted.

Delegate Gregory Habeeb, R-Salem, said he was concerned about the ramifications this extension could have on special elections.

“For those of us who are elected the day before the session began, this three-day window would delay seating a member of this body,” Habeeb said. “I think that creates a situation where voters aren’t represented where they need to do.”

Ultimately, all 10 of the governor’s recommendations to the voter-ID bills failed – half in the House, the others in the Senate. McDonnell now must decide whether to sign the legislation into law or to veto it outright.

Democrats, who have criticized the legislation as an unconstitutional attempt to suppress the votes of minority and elderly Virginians, called on McDonnell to reject the bills.

“Frankly, I can tell that the governor tried to fix the bill and make it better, but actually it does not,” said Delegate Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria. “His amendments don’t make it better, and the only appropriate action on this bill is to veto it.”