Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Dewhurst made a deal with the governor and gave his word he'd kill the bill."

Senator says veto-override bill faces Perry-Dewhurst conspiracy

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The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN – A Republican senator says Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst are conspiring to kill a constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to meet when necessary to override a governor's vetoes.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, speaking with unusual candor against powerhouses in the Capitol, said Dewhurst betrayed a trust as the Senate's presiding officer to deal fairly and address bills that have the support of two-thirds of the 31-member Senate. Wentworth, R-San Antonio, said he had collected the signatures of 26 Senate supporters for the constitutional proposal, but Dewhurst told him that at the behest of the governor, he would not call up the bill for debate.

"He made a deal with the governor and gave his word he'd kill the bill," Wentworth said Tuesday. "He told me that the governor has talked to him 20 times about it."

Dewhurst press secretary Rich Parsons declined to address Wentworth's comments, saying only, "That bill has been through the same process as any other legislation that has come over from the House."

In the governor's office, press secretary Allison Castle said she hadn't heard that the governor has been involved with the issue.

"I am unaware of conversations like that between the governor and lieutenant governor, and certainly 20 conversations," she said.

The proposed constitutional amendment, which if passed by the Senate would have gone directly to voters for approval in November, provided that after a regular legislative session and the period allowed for the governor to veto bills, lawmakers would register with their chambers' clerks on whether they wished to return to Austin for a veto override session.

If a majority of lawmakers wanted to convene, the Legislature would meet for a maximum of three days to debate overriding any veto.

Because more than 80 percent of laws traditionally are passed in the last 10 days of a legislative session, the lawmakers have left town and rarely have any opportunity to vote on overturning a governor's veto.

Perry, who is Texas' longest-serving governor, has vetoed more bills than any other.

The proposed amendment sailed through the House on April 1 and has been eligible to be debated in the Senate since May 15.

Wentworth said he believes the deal "jeopardizes the understanding and the trust the Senate has had with its presiding officer for several decades. It's regrettable."

The amendment's author, Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, said he was disappointed. He said the lieutenant governor, being elected statewide, has a difficult job acting as a disinterested party in this case.
"Dewhurst has one foot in the legislative branch and one foot in the executive branch," Elkins said. "But I've always said this is not about the governor. It's about the power of the Legislature"

© 2009 Dallas Morning News

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