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Ready To Launch Your State Advocacy Program? Start At The Governor’s Office

State governors wield a significant amount of power, so it's important to get them on your side early when starting your state advocacy program. Learn more.

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You’ve crafted a comprehensive legislative agenda, plotted the law-making timeline, tracked committee appointments, identified lawmakers who will support and oppose your initiatives, and solicited potential sponsors to carry them onto the floor.

Now the emphasis is on coalition building, finding persuasive allies and key influencers to enhance your state advocacy campaign’s chances of success. And while there is an array of potential alignments within every state capitol’s advocacy and lobbying community to calculate and calibrate, why not start at the top?

Have you contacted the governor’s office?

As the chief executives of state government, governors wield extraordinary statutory power and political clout. Many states invest its chief executive with more authority than that accorded the President of the United States by the Constitution. More often than not, therefore, without a governor’s support, you’re dead in the water before setting sail.

All 50 states give the governor the authority to approve or veto a bill approved by the legislature with the stroke or strikethrough of a pen, sometimes without explanation or recourse. How much veto authority state constitutions give governors can influence the law-making process from start to finish.

Of course, not all governors are vested with the same veto authority and every state legislature can override a governor’s veto. But understanding how power is shared between the legislative and executive branches in your state is fundamental in plotting coalition-building and legislative strategies. Especially if the state’s chief executive does not support, or is ambivalent about, issues important to you.

For your state-by-state guide to gubernatorial veto types, click here

Perhaps the two most pivotal factors to incorporate into your advocacy campaign are time constraints on a gubernatorial veto and legislatures’ override thresholds. The first thing to understand, however, is the different type of vetoes a governor may have in his or her executive toolbox.

VETO TYPES: All 50 state governors have the power to issue a “regular” veto and reject whole legislative measures. This was not always so. In fact, the governor of North Carolina had no veto authority whatsoever until 1996.

Forty-four states give governors a “line-item” veto, meaning they can single out and reject specific measures within a legislative package, without scuttling an entire bill. The last governor to receive “line-item” veto authority was Maine in 1995. But if the governors of Indiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Vermont disagree with a component of a bill, they must reject the entire package, or allow it to pass.

At least four states — Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington — limit a governor’s “line-item” veto only to appropriation or budget bills. That authority is further restricted In Oregon to budget bills, or to inserting an “emergency clause” under specific circumstances.

Thirteen states — Alaska, California, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin — restrict the governor’s “line-item” veto in budgetary or appropriation bills to “reduction” only, meaning they can only decrease, and never increase, funding within a spending bill.

Alabama, Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia governors have “amendatory” veto power, meaning they can kick adopted bills back to legislators with revisions. If legislators fail to override the governor’s amended bill, it becomes law.

TIMING: It is critical to understand the “veto clock” on adopted measures. In at least 31 states, the “veto clock” begins the minute a measure is enacted by both chambers — and sometimes, in some places, minutes literally do count.

There are specific time frames in which adopted bills must be presented to the governor. In almost every case, if the legislature is still in session, the onus is on the governor to veto a bill or it automatically becomes law. In other words, if a governor takes no action, the law is enacted. That time frame in most states is less than 10 days. Among exceptions is Illinois, where a governor has 60 days to sit on a bill before it becomes law.

The rules change in most states for bills adopted in a late flurry during the late stages of a legislative session and presented to the governor after the legislature adjourns. For these late measures, the time lines are extended up to 20 and 30 days in many states. In Georgia, for instance, the governor has 40 days after the legislature adjourns to veto a bill before it automatically becomes law.

Even after adjournment, in 38 states the governor must veto a bill within a specified time line or it automatically becomes law. But the opposite is true in 12 states, where governors must formally sign into law any bill presented after adjournment or it is automatically rejected.

This type of post-adjournment gubernatorial inaction is called a “pocket veto” and the governors of Alabama, Delaware, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wisconsin can all kill a late-arriving bill by simply doing nothing.

If a late-arriving or post-adjournment bill is vetoed or dies by inaction, 35 states provide legislators with the capacity to call a special session to challenge the veto in an override vote. But in 15 states — Alabama, Indiana, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, Utah, California, Michigan, Rhode Island, Vermont, Idaho, Minnesota and South Carolina — only a governor can call legislators into a special session.

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The bottom line is timing is critical. Adopted bills presented to the governor while legislators are in the capitol have a far greater chance passing executive muster — even if a governor is opposed — than those that arrive on his or her desk in the waning days of a session or after adjournment. In virtually every state, lawmakers have more leverage when in session while the governor can exert more authority once the legislature adjourns.

OVERRIDE THRESHOLDS: Generally, the higher the threshold required to override a governor’s veto, the more important it is to cultivate legislative coalitions to ensure bills pass both chambers of a legislature in resounding fashion.

The highest and most common threshold for overriding a governor’s veto is a 2/3rd vote of both chambers. This 66.7 percent margin is required to override a gubernatorial veto in 37 states. Seven states — Delaware, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, Rhode Island and Maryland — lower that threshold to 3/5ths, or 60 percent, of both chambers to override a governor’s veto. Meanwhile, six states — Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia — require nothing more than a simple majority, 50-percent plus one vote, to undercut a governor’s veto.

Therefore, in addition to understanding the types of vetoes a governor is accorded and how timing influences the balance of power, recognizing the influence of override thresholds is pivotal in getting bills past a governor, especially if the chief executive is not enthused with the legislation.

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If you’re in one of the 37 states that require a 2/3rd vote to override a veto the bills presented to the governor generally must be more “moderate” and have wide support. In these states, especially where only the governor can call a legislature into special session to reconsider a vetoed bill, the chief executive can exert enormous authority.

In California, for instance, a gubernatorial veto has not been challenged — not even in an attempted override vote — since 1979. Gov. Jerry Brown has routinely vetoed post-adjournment bills — such as a 2011 breast cancer-detection bill approved 35-1 in the Senate and 66-6 in the Assembly — with little or no comment, and with little or no recourse for legislators to respond until the next legislative session.

Just the opposite is true in the six states where nothing more than a simple majority is necessary to undo a veto. The governor’s power is further diminished in four of those states — Arizona, Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia — where the legislature can call itself into a special session to override a governor’s veto in a 50-percent plus one vote. In these states, coalitions can be narrow and currying favor with the governor may not be as critical as it is elsewhere.

For a fast state-by-state outline of gubernatorial veto types, time frames and override thresholds. (excluding Sundays and holidays unless otherwise stated), click here.

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