Democrats in the state Legislature are looking to level a political playing field that has tilted in favor of the executive office over the past few decades.
Assembly Minority Leader Spencer Black, D-Madison, presented Joint Resolution 40 to the Assembly Judiciary Committee Thursday. This proposal marks the first step in an attempt to amend the state constitution to limit the governor’s veto authority.
“I believe it is important to begin a discussion of separation of powers,” said Rep Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin, who chairs the committee. “It is undeniable that the power of the legislature has declined over the years.”
Rep. Tom Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, applauded Gundrum for allowing the bill to be presented before the committee and moving the discussion forward.
“I believe that the legislature has become so weak over the past several years that we are almost ineffectual,” Hebl said. “It seems that whenever there is a Democrat in the governor’s office, the Republicans introduce this kind of legislation, and when there is a Republican in office the Democrats bring it up.”
Assembly Joint Resolution 40, authored by Rep. Black and co-sponsored in the Senate by Democrats Sen. Brian Burke, D-Milwaukee, and Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, calls for a full constitutional amendment, requiring adoption by both houses of the legislature in successive sessions as well as ratification by the citizens of the state.
The state Constitution currently reads: “In approving an appropriation bill in part, the governor may not create a new word by rejecting individual letters in the words of the enrolled bill.”
The newly proposed amendment states that should the governor choose to reject part of an appropriations bill, he may do so only if the part he is rejecting could be a complete and workable bill in its own right, thereby eliminating his ability to manipulate individual words and digits.
Local attorney Frederick Wade, who has unsuccessfully attempted to petition the Supreme Court to declare the Governor’s current power unconstitutional, also testified before the committee.
In his testimony, Wade cited Risser v. Thompson, a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in a 1991 case stating governors have used the partial veto power to create laws “that the legislature did not consider, let alone enact.”
Wade feels now is the time to act before the state’s chief executive, regardless of party, takes any further egregious actions.
“On the level of principle, there is a right of people in a democracy such as ours to make their own laws,” Wade said. “Right now, we are moving away from that to a sort of legislation by executive decree. The end result is that we’ve had governors using vetoes to re-appropriate over $1.1 billion in ways of their own choosing.”
Although the bill, should it be enacted, would substantially levy the powers of the legislature as a whole, a contentious party-line debate has risen over the current version of the legislation.
“My hope is that, over time, the Republicans will wise up on this issue,” Black said. “My hope is that in the future we can reach an agreement and the process will go forward in a bi-partisan manner on the principles this bill has outlined.”
Gundrum said this is unlikely.
“It seems unlikely that a floor vote will occur on this issue in the foreseeable future,” he said. “Spencer Black’s bill simply does not meet my expectations as to how to specifically handle the issue.”