5/25/2009 5:24 PM
Should the governor's veto power be unlimited or should legislators get to grade the governor's papers?
The issue of the governor's veto powers has heated up the past three years, with high-profile debates between the executive and legislative branches over eminent domain, community college funding, and the Texas Department of Transportation.
Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) sent a letter to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst Sat. May 22 asking Dewhurst for recognition on HJR 29 by Rep. Gary Elkins (R-Houston) and Wentworth. He also blasted Gov. Rick Perry for taking the amendment personally and trying to kill it.
"This is not a piddling little resolution," states the letter. "It is a significant proposal on which the people of Texas have a right to vote to bring about a needed check and balance on the powers of the legislative and executive branches of state government."
The letter states that Wentworth has 26 votes, though Wentworth acknowledged lobbying from the governor's office has caused some senators to change their position on the amendment. The constitutional amendment allows the Legislature to come back for a three-day session for the purpose of overriding governor's vetoes if a majority of either the house or senate request it.
Two years ago, Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the legislature's omnibus bill restricting the power of eminent domain -- the mandatory taking of private property with compensation. Officials at the Texas Department of Transportation said the bill would be expensive. Perry's decision sparked an uproar from both parties.
The Elkins amendment passed the House twice -- once in 2007 and again 131-16 on April 1, 2009. In 2007, the bill died in the Senate State Affairs Committee, but this year the amendment left committee 8-1 on May 14.
In 2008, in the wake of the controversy over the eminent domain veto, the Texas GOP endorsed the amendment and included a statement of support in the 2008 Republican Party of Texas platform.
Wentworth maintains this is not about Perry but about the separation of powers. "It is outrageous that the governor is taking this personally," Wentworth said. "This is a matter between the institutions. We have no check currently on the power of the governor to veto bills by the scores, if he or she elected to do so, because we're going home. There's been one bill overriden by a governor's veto in 68 years."
Wentworth added that he doubts the power granted in this amendment would be used very often. After all, it still would take a two-thirds vote to override a veto. "My prediction is that precious few vetoes will be overriden, but those that are will be very important bills," Wentworth added.
He also thought the constitutional amendment would result in fewer bills being vetoed. "I suspect the governor, whomever he or she is, will be more careful about the legislation [he or she] vetoes," Wentworth said.
Some high-ranking Senate sources (and friends of the governor) have suggested that there are 11 senators willing to vote against Wentworth's amendment. But Wentworth said he re-verified his voted May 22 (soon after the letter was sent) and he still has 21 votes, though Wentworth acknowledges the number of votes he has went down since the letter. "The governor has dispatched [legislative director] Ken Ambrister to come to the floor of the Senate and try to pick people off."
Spokesman for both Dewhurst and Perry chose not to comment, noting that they do not usually discussing controversies between members of the Senate.
For Dewhurst, this is a critical issue. He is friends with Perry, but this is an amendment important to the grassroots of the party, and some of Perry's past vetoes have not fared well there.
The deadline to pass joint resolutions out of the senate is May 27.