Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), the chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, called Abbott’s decision “an abuse of power, an act of legislative coercion and a threat to democracy.”
“The Legislature is a co-equal branch of government and the separation of powers is enshrined in our state constitution. The governor doesn’t get to simply cancel another branch of government when he doesn’t get his way,” Turner said in a press release Friday.
Article IV, Sec. 14 of the Texas Constitution lays out the governor’s authority to veto bills, specifically the line-item veto power for appropriations bills.
“If any bill presented to the Governor contains several items of appropriation he may object to one or more of such items, and approve the other portion of the bill,” the constitution states.
Abbott has contended that the veto is justified by Texas House Democrats’ choice to walk out of the chamber and break quorum on May 30 to block consideration of the Republican-backed election reform bill.
When he vetoed Article X of Senate Bill 1, the governor said, “Texans don’t run from a legislative fight, and they don’t walk away from unfinished business. Funding should not be provided for those who quit their job early, leaving their state with unfinished business and exposing taxpayers to higher costs for an additional legislative session. I therefore object to and disapprove of these appropriations.”
However, some critics of Abbott’s move say the decision affects people who had no control over the walkout. Rick Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, called lawmakers and legislative staffers “victims” and pointed out the decision affects more than just elected officials.
“All the support staffers, whether Democratic, Republican or strictly nonpartisan, have several things in common: They are bystanders in this brawl, their livelihoods are now in jeopardy, and they have reason to wonder whether they will be able to pay the bills and support their families after [September 1],” Levy said.
Among other arguments, the petition claims that the veto is unconstitutional because it contravenes the “legislative salaries clause” and impinges the separation of powers. The petitioners also argue that Abbott exceeded his authority by vetoing the provision that says leftover funding from the current biennium will roll over to the next biennium.
Article III, Sec. 24 of the Texas Constitution reads, “Members of the Legislature shall receive from the Public Treasury a salary of Six Hundred Dollars ($600) per month, unless a greater amount is recommended by the Texas Ethics Commission and approved by the voters of this State in which case the salary is that amount. Each member shall also receive a per diem set by the Texas Ethics Commission for each day during each Regular and Special Session of the Legislature.”
Petitioners are asking for an “expedited briefing” and a decision well ahead of the beginning of the next biennium, citing the “immediate and ongoing injury” to employees of the legislative branch.
A copy of the petition can be found below.
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Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."