Legislative Column for the Week of Monday, Sept. 2, 2014
Clarifying the Facts Regarding Vetoed Bills

Legislative News

Toward the final weeks of session, it’s not at all uncommon for bills to be added to other measures as amendments. It’s a standard part of the legislative process. As the end of session approaches, legislators—committed to taking action for their constituents—work with bill sponsors and the chamber to amend legislation to include measures that are priorities for their area and its citizens. Amendments are usually thoroughly vetted.

There’s nothing controversial about this. It’s been done for decades, and has allowed legislators the opportunity to pass important measures that improve the lives of their constituents and their communities. Furthermore, nothing is approved without extensive debate in the Senate.

The upper chamber is recognized for allowing lengthy consideration of measures. We don’t spend five minutes talking about a bill and then go to an up or down vote. We spend hours upon hours on the floor going over each and every section in a bill. There’s a reason the Senate works a lot of late nights.

Despite this, the governor has spent the interim criticizing the Legislature for passing a handful of bills late in session he claims were not subject to public and fiscal review. As a result, a number of bills which could greatly benefit our state were vetoed. To make matters worse, he then used this claim to withhold valuable funds from numerous departments, shuttering mental health care facilities, closing state satellite offices and gutting other valuable programs.

For instance, the governor vetoed Senate Bill 860 because he believes the tax provisions in the measure didn’t go through the legislative process and didn’t have public hearings or fiscal notes. This is incredibly misleading. All four of those provisions received public hearings. The section regarding data calculators being exempt from the tax free back to school weekend was originally a bill prefiled on Dec. 12, 2013. It was then heard in committee on Jan. 21, with a fiscal note provided prior to that on Jan. 17. The same for the provision addressing employer income tax withholdings. It started as a bill filed on Jan. 7, and had three separate hearings on Jan. 22, April 3, and April 24. The fiscal note for the bill was available by Jan. 21.

The governor has especially focused on Senate Bill 829 and House Bill 1455, stating there were no public hearings for these bills or fiscal impact notes. In reality, there were seven hearings held between these two bills:  Feb. 11, Feb. 27, March 11, April 3, April 10, April 17 and May 6. And although these bills were passed on the final day of session, the House approved HB 1455 before the General Assembly’s annual spring recess, and the Senate passed SB 860 on April 3. These bills were not sprung on legislators in the final hours of session. That’s not how we conduct the people’s business in the Capitol. These bills had been discussed since the beginning of session, if not earlier. They were simply stand-alone bills at that time, not provisions on other bills.

On Sept. 10, the Legislature will meet for its annual veto session. At that time, we’ll have the option of overriding the governor’s vetoes. I hope my colleagues will join me in considering overriding legislation that was vetoed on unfounded grounds and subject to a campaign of misinformation.