March 23, 2007
To override or not to override

I haven't made up my mind about this yet.

In another rebuff to Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas House passed a proposed constitutional amendment Wednesday for an automatic special session during which lawmakers could attempt to override gubernatorial vetoes.

"I want to be part of the game," said Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, author of House Joint Resolution 59.

The resolution easily received the needed two-thirds vote, passing 109-29. A similar measure in the Senate is co-sponsored by 26 out of the 31 senators.

Last week the House passed a bill to revoke Perry's executive order requiring middle school girls to get an HPV vaccine.

Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, was one of the few to oppose the veto measure.

"I know a lot of people would like to spit in the governor's eye," Swinford said. "I hope you enjoy doing that."

He called the proposal a "sham" that upsets the constitutional balance of powers between the legislative and executive branches. He said Texas has been well-served by the existing system.

"This is the separation of powers the way the founders of our state intended," Swinford said.


The postsession veto is one of the few strong powers afforded the Texas governor. Perry has liberally exercised his veto power, using it to kill dozens of bills and eliminate $2 billion from state budgets since 2001.

He vetoed 83 bills in 2001 and in 2005 eliminated the entire education budget in an effort to force lawmakers to change the school finance system.

The governor has 10 days to sign or veto bills that arrive on his desk during a legislative session. However, for the vast majority of bills passed in the final week of the session, the governor has 20 days to review the legislation.

At that point, lawmakers have no recourse and must wait until the next biennial session to try again to pass the bills.

It takes a vote of two-thirds of the House and Senate to override a veto. That has not happened since 1979.

Paul Burka wrote last month when this passed out of committee that it was a bad idea:

My argument against the expansion of the governor's power is that the current constitutional balance of executive and legislative power seems just about right. What is the necessity for changing it? One answer might be that Perry would veto any attempt to rein in his use of executive orders, and the Legislature could do nothing about it.

But of course the Legislature can do something about it. It can speed up its glacial pace. All lawmakers have to do is get bills to the governor more than ten days before sine die. If he doesn't act within that period, the bills automatically become law. If he does act, the Legislature has a chance to override a veto. Is it really necessary for the Senate to go home for the weekend on Wednesdays, or is it Tuesdays? It's not really necessary to take up the first hour to an hour and a half of every session passing resolutions honoring the new president of the Kiwanis Club in Gun Barrel City. Speakers could name committees earlier, so that they might actually begin work before mid-February.

It comes down to this: The governorship is supposed to be a weak office. One of the governor's few powers is the power to veto bills. Elkins' proposal would make the office even weaker: The override sessions would be feeding frenzies by aggrieved members cutting deals with other aggrieved members to override vetoes. There are a lot of things that are broke in state government, but this isn't one of them. Don't fix it.

I have my doubts about the "feeding frenzy" scenario that Burka presents. It's not that easy to get a 2/3 majority in both chambers, but for items that do get it, there should be the chance to override. Even in that situation, I could see some members refusing to vote for an override on principle. I think overrides would remain exceptional, though maybe we'd actually get to see one or two.

Sure, the Lege could and maybe should work faster, but that's far from a panacea. Too much legislation (cf HB3588, a/k/a the Trans Texas Corridor bill) gets passed without sufficient examination already. I'm leery of forcing them to pick up the pace.

Still, this is one of the few real powers the Governor is supposed to have, and restricting that as a response to the current occupant's obsession with grabbing power elsewhere strikes me as inappropriate. I'll have to think about this one if it does make it to the ballot in November.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 23, 2007 to That's our Lege

I'm currently leaning against this idea. Our governor is weak enough already. This is probably his most important power, and we shouldn't take it away.

True, our governor is mishandling his power right now. But what about good governors in the future? That could be a different story. And in the case of the governor's current power grabs, there are always other ways around it besides legislation. Like law suits.

Posted by: Michael Hurta on March 23, 2007 4:49 PM