Off to rough-and-tumble start: Senate shields vetoes from 12 House salvos

This story originally ran on Jan. 15, 2008 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Georgia House took a historic shot at Gov. Sonny Perdue on the first day of the 2008 session Monday by voting overwhelmingly to override a dozen bills he vetoed last spring.

But just as it had done in a similar situation at the end of the 2007 session,  the state Senate came to Perdue's rescue and stalled the move. The Senate postponed any decision about joining the House in overriding the vetoes.

That delay will give Perdue time to lobby senators to oppose the House revolt,  just as they did last year on his veto of a $142 million tax rebate.

Even so,  the House's defiance suggested that this year's legislative session could be even more rancorous than last year's.

After the votes,  Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said,  "Today's actions are yet another example of House leadership insisting on making a statement rather than making the state better.

"Georgians expect us to address serious issues facing this state and work together to solve problems,  not create disputes between the branches of government."

House members denied afterward that they were renewing the political war with Perdue that began with last year's tax-bill veto.

"I don't know that it's really a signal [to Perdue], " Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter (R-Johns Creek) said. "It's more the House simply reasserting its position,  some positions it felt strongly about."

The House did not consider trying to override Perdue's veto of the $142 million tax rebate because the money was part of the fiscal 2007 budget. Fiscal 2007 ended June 30,  so that money is no longer available.

Among the vetoes overridden were for bills that:

  • Made it less likely the state would take away college book allowances from HOPE scholars.
  • Gave tax breaks to the builders of Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center,  Encore Park in Alpharetta and large-scale tourist attractions.
  • Made it easier for lawmakers to get financial information from state agencies.

The House vetoes violated an unwritten tradition of legislative decorum. Historically,  the first day of the session is a day for backslapping and welcome-back speeches.

"I've been here 33 years, " Rep. Bob Hanner (D-Parrott) said,  "and I've never seen anything like it."

The Legislature last overrode vetoes --- on relatively minor bills --- 34 years ago.

After the 2007 session,  Perdue vetoed 41 bills and budget appropriations.

Lawmakers were particularly irate about Perdue's decision to redirect funding on more than a dozen separate appropriations they had approved. Essentially,  Perdue kept the money in the budget but told state agencies to ignore the directions the General Assembly gave them on how to spend it.

House leaders are planning to file legislation this session in hopes of keeping the governor from taking such action again.

Most of the vetoes the House sought to undo Monday were on bills approved by unanimous votes in the General Assembly last year.

In general,  fewer than two dozen House members sided with the governor Monday on any of the override votes.

Democrats joined the Republican majority in supporting the override effort after meeting in the morning.

"Our motto has been that,  if you see a good fight,  get out of the way, " House Minority Caucus Chairman Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) said. "But we felt . . . we should stand up on these issues."

Even before the voting was over,  Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram),  sounded as if he knew that the Perdue-friendly Senate would at least temporarily foil the House's plans.

"The Constitution requires them to immediately consider [the overrides] and not to play a game, " Richardson said. "But I predict the other body that took an oath may well shirk their responsibility and not address these matters."

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle,  who presides over the Senate,  said the veto overrides would be considered individually by the Senate Rules Committee. The committee might,  or might not,  send them to the full Senate for a vote.

"The bottom line is that these bills have broad statutory and budgetary impact, " Cagle said,  "and we need to fully weigh the perspectives of the governor and the House prior to a floor vote."

         
Staff writer Andrea Jones contributed to this article.

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