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Bolling delimits tiebreaker role in divided Virginia Senate

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling will cast tiebreaking votes on organizing the state Senate, but not on matters such as the budget, the approval of judges or constitutional amendments, he said Tuesday.

The declaration, outlined in a memo to members of the state Senate, is the latest, most authoritative statement from Mr. Bolling attempting to clarify his role ahead of the 2012 General Assembly session, which convenes next week.

In the memo, he contends that the lieutenant governor's "broad reaching authority" to cast a tiebreaking vote as president of the state Senate applies to every matter that comes before the body, unless otherwise prohibited by the state Constitution.

Mr. Bolling, a Republican, also writes that he does, in fact, have the power to cast votes on matters of organization — that includes the all-important task of electing members to committees, the bodies that determine which bills make it to the floor and which die quiet deaths without receiving a full vote from the body.

A Richmond judge declined to grant a temporary injunction to prevent Mr. Bolling from casting tiebreaking votes on organizational matters after Senate Democrats filed a lawsuit challenging the lieutenant governor's authority. The lawsuit argues that nothing in the state Constitution expressly allows the lieutenant governor "any role" in the chamber's responsibility to select its officers and determine its rules.

The day after the Nov. 8 elections, the GOP declared that it intended to use Mr. Bolling's vote to govern as a working majority. The Senate will be divided evenly at 20-20 when it convenes on Jan. 11. Gov. Bob McDonnell is also a Republican, and the House of Delegates has a GOP majority.

Mr. Bolling's office has consistently maintained that the lieutenant governor does, in fact, have the power to cast such tiebreaking votes.

The lieutenant governor did concede that "members elected" in cases of voting on financial matters, issuing bonds, selecting judges and passing constitutional amendments do not include the lieutenant governor.

Ironically, he cited in his memo the same opinions from two Republican state attorneys general that Democrats referenced in their lawsuit — a 1980 opinion from then-Attorney General Marshall Coleman concluding that the lieutenant governor is not a member of the Senate for the purposes of passing certain bills, and another, from then-Attorney General James S. Gilmore III in 1996, affirming the 1980 opinion.

"I recognize that senators on both sides of the aisle may be disappointed with my conclusions, albeit for entirely different reasons," he wrote in his memo. "However, throughout my service as lieutenant governor, I have tried to preside over the Senate in a fair and impartial manner, and I will continue to do so."

Mr. McDonnell and Republican leaders hailed the memo, saying that it should put to bed any squabbling over the matter.

"I trust this will put this issue to a close and allow us to focus on the major issues and budget priorities I have asked the General Assembly to address beginning next week," Mr. McDonnell said.

"There is little ambiguity in this situation, and those who continue to challenge his constitutional authority are doing so solely for partisan advantage," said Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Ryan T. McDougle, Hanover Republican.

Meanwhile, Democrats praised the section of Mr. Bolling's memo regarding the budget, judges and constitutional amendments.

"I welcome Mr. Bolling moving towards our view that the tiebreaking powers of the [lieutenant governor] are limited," the caucus chairman, Sen. A. Donald McEachin, Henrico Democrat, said in a statement. "The legal question of whether the [lieutenant governor] has the right to break ties in regards to setting Senate rules and organization is still pending before the Richmond City Circuit Court."

Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, reiterated the party's position that power-sharing in the chamber is only fair, given its 20-20 split.

"The Republicans are still going for an all-out power grab in the Senate," he said.

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