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Unusual dynamics lie behind vote changes on issue

The failure of HB 799 yesterday revealed some interesting legislative dynamics that show this dubious constitutional amendment remains barely alive.

The bill, by state Rep. Eddie Lambert, would amend the Constitution to give the Legislature a veto power over a governor’s special session call. In doing so, it would weaken an important power the governor has that assists in providing proper checks and balances. Its practical effect would retain only to the Legislature this power; it already can call itself into special session, and with the acquisition of this veto power effectively only it may determine whether it ever does.

While supporters may argue that the change might save money – an unenthusiastic Legislature could prevent itself going into extraordinary session where otherwise little or nothing may be done at taxpayer expense – a political solution seems preferable: a governor would incur political cost by having such a session flop and thereby be deterred from proposing it. With this solution available, there is no need to sacrifice this gubernatorial check on legislative inaction.

However, the matter is more complicated than the 53-33 (with 17 abstentions of the 103 current members) vote in favor, meaning it failed as two-thirds of the seated membership or 70 members must approve a proposed amendment which then also must seek an affirmative majority of the electorate. This is because the day before the House passed HB 800 65-26 (with 12 abstentions), the enabling legislation to HB 799 – this being basically a copy of the amendment.

Had the voting held Monday to Tuesday, the amendment would be only five votes short. But, as it turned out, 15 who voted yea for the bill voted against the amendment, and eight others turned up absent. While it picked up nine who had voted nay and three who had been absent, obviously this wasn’t enough to come close even to matching the affirmative total of the bill.

This is not a rare occurrence, where on an amendment and its companion enabling legislation there are a few shifts in votes for strategic reasons (more bluntly, trying to present a certain image to constituents and future voters), but the volume and the fact that this is unlikely to be a big issue to many constituents makes the large movement between votes unusual. It also points to a way Lambert can keep the bill going.

If he can reverse the dynamic that lost six net votes from bill to amendment and get back the absentees, that gets him to 67. Four members missed both votes, so three of them would get it to 70. Regardless, it’s not a bill that deserves to pass for reasons of public knowledge, but perhaps even more intriguing than the arguments for or against are the behind-the-scenes reasons why so many legislators voted the opposite way on the same text.

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