Gary Elkins’ proposal for a special session to override gubernatorial vetos is pending in the House Government Reform committee after a hearing on February 19. In presenting the bill to the committee, Elkins said, “I honestly believe if this bill gets to the floor, the House will vote for it by 148 or 149 to nothing, and the public will ratify it by 90%.” It has considerable support: joint authors Bailey, Bonnen, Callegari, and Leibowitz, and co-authors Anchia, Berman, Flynn, Hamilton, Harless, C. Howard, Merritt, W. Smith, Talton, Veasey, and West, with Wentworth as sponsor of the Senate companion.
Elkins is probably right about the prospects for the joint resolution, given the hostility toward the governor this session and Perry’s zest for exercising the veto power in the past, sometimes apparently for vengeance. Members have also expressed to me their frustration with the governor’s office for failing to communicate objections to bills that could easily be corrected before they reached the governor’s desk.
The resolution calls for the Legislature to assemble on the day after the period for vetoing bills expires and meet for three days, during which overriding vetoes would be the only matter allowed for consideration. Ironically, in a brief discussion among committee members about the deadline for gubernatorial vetos after sine die, nobody seemed to know the answer. Elkins said 21 days (it’s 20), and another member said 10 days (correct, but only for bills that reach the governor’s desk during the first 130 days of the session).
I have been critical of Perry’s attempts to expand executive power, but I don’t think Elkins’ proposal is a good 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.