Constitution Violated by Senate President in Veto Override
Anyone who has followed Maryland politics knows that the Senate President has long ignored the Maryland Constitution, much to the chagrin of the citizenry. There is no accountability under law because no one is willing to challenge him in court. Instead, he has been given full reign to abuse his authority to the detriment of Marylanders.
In pushing through an override of the Governor’s vetoes today, he made 3 major Constitutional violations of a section that was created solely to “guard against hasty or partial legislation and encroachment of the Legislative Department”.
The Constitution: Background
SEC. 17. (a) To guard against hasty or partial legislation and encroachment of the Legislative Department upon the co-ordinate Executive and Judicial Departments, every Bill passed by the House of Delegates and the Senate, before it becomes a law, shall be presented to the Governor of the State. If the Governor approves he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it with his objections to the House in which it originated, which House shall enter the objections at large on its Journal and proceed to reconsider the Bill. Each House may adopt by rule a veto calendar procedure that permits Bills that are to be reconsidered to be read and voted upon as a single group. The members of each House shall be afforded reasonable notice of the Bills to be placed on each veto calendar. Upon the objection of a member, any Bill shall be removed from the veto calendar. If, after such reconsideration, three-fifths of the members elected to that House pass the Bill, it shall be sent with the objections to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if it passes by three-fifths of the members elected to that House it shall become a law.
(d) Any Bill vetoed by the Governor shall be returned to the House in which it originated immediately after the House has organized at the next regular or special session of the General Assembly. The Bill may then be reconsidered according to the procedure specified in this section.
The key word is “proceed,” which is an immediate action. There is no allowance for a delay of any type except that vetoed bills can be lumped together and that notice is provided.
The Maryland Manual stresses the immediacy because it is undeniably stated in the Constitution:
“The power to override a veto rests with the General Assembly. If the Governor vetoes a bill during a regular session, the General Assembly immediately considers the Governor’s veto message. If the Governor vetoes a bill presented after the session, the veto message must be considered immediately at the next regular or special session of the legislature. The General Assembly may not override a veto during the first year of a new legislative term since the bill would have been passed by the previous legislature (Const., Art. II, sec. 17). A three-fifths vote of the elected membership of both chambers is necessary to override a veto.”
There were four violations that took place today in the State Senate:
1. The Senate President postponed the voting of an override for the veto of 2015’s SB 340 until today, February 9, 2016. Session began on Wednesday, January 13, which makes it the 27th day following the date that the vote on the veto was to take place. That is 30% into the 90 day session.
2. The delay allowed for Delegate Craig Zucker to vote on the measure in the House of Delegates then vote on the measure in the State Senate after receiving an appointment to the Senate. The intent of the Constitution was to decrease the ability for the legislature to abuse its authority, yet the violation of the Constitution above was committed to allow for a legislator to receive two votes on the issue.
Additionally, the language is that “three-fifths of the members elected to that House” and not “three-fifths of the members of that House.” An appointment is not an election. This choice of language is clear because the appointment process is discussed elsewhere in the Constitution, and it is intended to ensure that the citizens, and not a legislative officer, have the authority to determine who can vote on a veto override. See Article III on the difference between “elected” and “chosen” and how some language specifies those “members elected” (Sect. 14), “members” (Sect. 15), and “whole number of members elected” (Sect. 28).
3. There was a double vote on a veto override today. The official journal lists the activity as “Motion Reconsider vote (Senator Klausmeier) Adopted (29-18).” At no time does the Constitution allow for a reconsideration of a vote for a veto override.
4. The list of names required under the Constitution to be immediately entered into the public journal were immediately entered into the public journal for the multiple veto override votes the State Senate took. Official vote counts were released late by each house. This list of names was withheld to prevent citizen activism to put pressure on those who voted on the measure.
There have always been questions as to the constitutionality of many activities pushed by the Senate President, including running multiple “days” of the session on the same calendar day to get around the Constitution’s requirement that each bill be heard on three different days (Art. III, Sect. 27 (a)) or the addition of expenditures to the budget without Gubernatorial consent (Art. III, Sect. 52).
These activities could constitution as a break from what he swore in the Oath of Office, “I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the State of Maryland, and support the Constitution and Laws thereof” (Art. I, Sect. 9).
Violating aspects of the State Constitution as an elected official is a serious offense with serious consequences: “and any person violating said oath, shall, on conviction thereof, in a Court of Law, in addition to the penalties now, or hereafter, to be imposed by Law, be thereafter incapable of holding any office of profit or trust in this State” (Art. I, Sect. 11).