by James C. Sherlock
Del. Luke Torian, D-Woodbridge, the Chair of the Appropriations Committee in the House of Delegates, has announced that there will be no member amendments allowed for the budget that the governor sends down during the upcoming special session.
Three things about that:
- Torian is the king of budget amendments. Look at all of the amendments that he permitted/authored on education and healthcare policy in the past two sessions on what were supposed to be a budget bill. He was also the one that orchestrated the tabling in his committee of the Health Enterprise Zone bill that passed overwhelmingly in the policy committee among other examples;
- It is not clear that his ruling is either Constitutional or practical; and
- The budget bill will spend $4.3 billion.
Article VI of the Constitution of Virginia grants legislative power to the General Assembly. Torian’s ruling subordinates the General Assembly to the Governor for this session.
It also seems to make no sense.
The leadership must be confident that it can whip enough votes to pass every one of the Governor’s line items without change. But what happens if the General Assembly rejects one of the Governor’s items to spend part of the $4.3 billion windfall? Without the ability to amend, that part of the money will sit unspent.
Will legislators convene yet another special session to spend it? Change the rule in mid-session?
Torian cites lack of time to assess amendments. That is a self-imposed restriction. Delay the convening of the special session to allow time.
Allow a limited number of amendments, say no more than one per member by a date certain a couple of weeks from now. Let staff research them for 30 days. Then convene and vote in mid-September.
I say this with full knowledge that Democrats control both Houses. Amendments may not be to my personal liking, but the constitutional principle needs to be maintained.