Jeff Wentworth is still unhappy about the failure of his constitutional amendment to authorize a short veto override session following the twenty-day period during which the governor decides whether to sign or veto legislation. (A third option allows the governor to let a bill become law without his signature.) Jason Embry’s story today raises by implication some serious issues about who should run the Senate — the lieutenant governor or the senators — and about whether the lieutenant governor should continue to be a powerful legislative officer. Here are the opening paragraphs: Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, thinks that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst abused his authority in the recently completed legislative session, and he wants senators to change their rules in 2011 to prevent it from happening again. To back up for a second, I wrote a story for the Statesman last week about the fact that most of the bills that Gov. Rick Perry vetoed this year received few dissenting votes as they moved through the Legislature. As part of that story, I talked to Wentworth, who unsuccessfully pushed a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to come back into a brief special session and override some of Perry’s vetoes. Wentworth said that the measure had support from 26 of the 31 senators but Dewhurst would not recognize him to bring it up for a vote. And this part was not in that story — Wentworth said senators should change their rules in the next session to prevent that from happening again. “If I have anything to say about it, we’re going to change the rules come January 2011,” Wentworth said. “We’re going to say, if you put a file in writing with the secretary of the Senate, 21 signatures that senators want to debate a bill, then the president of the Senate should recognize that senator the next day of the session.” * * * * I am very skeptical about efforts to change the time-honored procedures for doing business in the Senate. The Republicans did it this year with the special order for Voter ID, and it blew up the session. If Wentworth’s plan goes through, it will change the nature of the lieutenant governor’s office. The proposal grants 21 senators the ability to force the lieutenant governor to recognize one of their number to bring legislation to the floor. By denying the light gov the discretion of when and whether to recognize members, Wentworth would weaken the office and rob the legislative branch of a counterweight to the executive. If one of the arguments against Wentworth’s proposal is that it ties the hands of the lieutenant governor, another argument is that his idea is doomed to failure. All the lieutenant governor has to do is to take a look at the list, pick out one or two members to lobby, get them to remove their names, and — poof! — there won’t be twenty-one signatures any more. I think that there is an easy solution to the problem of the Legislature’s inability to override the governor’s vetoes: start sooner. Quit wasting time early in the session. Get legislation to the governor’s desk early enough that he has to take action while the session is still going on. The Legislature could do what Congress does. After the November elections, each house should caucus in December. The speaker and the lieutenant governor will have a month to meet with members and get their committee preferences. At the caucus, the presiding officer-apparent announces the appointments for the upcoming session. And the Legislature can began holding committee hearings in January. The accelerated schedule will get bills to the governor’s desk in a timely manner so that he has to take action before the session ends, giving the Legislature a chance to override his vetoes. (The only circumstance in which this idea doesn’t work is the 2009 scenario in which the presumed speaker is defeated for reelection and the committee-apointment process starts late.) It’s not necessary to weaken the office of lieutenant governor to get the desired result.
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