Commission rejects strengthening Alabama governor’s veto

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Gov. Robert Bentley and former Gov. Albert Brewer at the Constitution Revision Commission on July 1, 2013.  (Montgomery Advertiser, Brian Lyman)

Gov. Robert Bentley and former Gov. Albert Brewer at the Constitution Revision Commission on July 1, 2013. (Montgomery Advertiser, Brian Lyman)

With a switch of two votes, the state’s Constitution Revision Commission might have given next year’s Legislature the chance to decide whether to increase the power of the Governor, at their own expense.

But after about two hours of debate — and despite Gov. Robert Bentley’s presence – the Commission voted to reject a proposal to strengthen the gubernatorial veto by making it more difficult for legislators to override executive vetoes.

Under the state’s 1901 Constitution, the Legislature needs a majority of elected officials — 53 in the House, 18 in the Senate — to override the governor’s veto. By contrast, the U.S. Constitution and many states require two-thirds of both houses of the legislature for a veto override.

The Commission considered a proposal that would have increased the override threshold from a majority to three-fifths of elected lawmakers. Under that system, it would take 63 votes in the House and 21 in the Senate to override the governor, similar to the requirement to pass constitutional amendments.

Speaking on the proposal in the meeting, Bentley — who said he would work to ensure the measure took effect when he was out of office — said it would restore “checks and balances” to the Alabama Constitution.

“The veto at this time has some meaning, but not a lot of meaning,” he said.

Bentley drew support from Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, who told his fellow commission members that he agreed it would check the power of the Legislature. Other lawmakers on the commission, however, were not convinced: Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, said the lower threshold allowed him to better protect constituents from items “detrimental” to his district.

Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, voted against the measure.

“When the Legislature passes a bill, the majority in favor send it to the governor,” she said. “Then we have one person who with the stroke of a pen can undo what we did in the Legislature. I think that hard 53 is protecting the majority who voted for the bill, who represent the majority of people in Alabama.”

The Commission, charged with reviewing 11 of the 16 articles in the state’s governing document, took up executive powers and the state’s education article on Monday. The commission makes recommendations on alterations to the Constitution; the Legislature must ultimately decide whether or not to adopt those changes in the form of a constitutional amendment, which must then be approved by voters.

On both articles, the proposed changes were generally minor, and mostly included gender-neutral language. However, the Commission postponed voting on changes to Section 256 of the Constitution, which required state schools be segregated on the basis of race. Former Gov. Albert Brewer, the chairman of the Commission, said that commission members were divided over whether to “affirm” support for public education, or go further toward a set of expectations for it.

“Surely there is language that expresses our commitment to public education, without making it a constitutional right that brings other issues to the table,” he said.

The commission also approved minor language changes to the Constitution’s Declaration of Rights, but decided to delay votes on adding a due process clause to Section 1, as well as sections dealing with sovereign immunity and navigable waterways.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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