Economic Development and Sports Business

THERE OUGHT TO BE A LAW: Why one vote counts more than all the rest

May 14, 2007

Personally, I figured the baboonprint wallpaper justified the new law all by itself.

Seriously, after the whole "jungle room" decorating uproar at the governor's residence last year, wasn't it obvious that unregulated interior designers were a threat to our very way of life?

Your General Assembly sure thought so, and this session the Indiana House and Senate overwhelmingly passed new licensing and certification standards for these decorators-including criminal penalties for impersonating a "registered interior designer."

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the showroom-Gov. Daniels took out his veto pen and gave the bill an extreme makeover. According to his veto message, the governor just didn't see the HGTV crowd as much of a threat to public health and safety. In fact, he noted we regulate too many professions as it is-at least 74 groups right now, including hypnotists, sports agents and manufacturedhome installers.

Nonetheless, given the substantial support for this bill, it's probably just a matter of time before the General Assembly overrides the veto, right? After all, the Indiana governor is pretty weak, constitutionally speaking. You'll remember from high school civics that it takes two-thirds of the U.S. House and Senate to override the president's veto. But not so in Indiana. Here, you only need a "constitutional majority": 51 votes in the House, 26 votes in the Senate. Since that's the number of votes it takes to pass a bill in the first place, it should be pretty easy to get the votes to override a veto, right?

Oddly enough, not so much. Most gubernatorial vetoes survive intact; in fact, it's pretty rare for the General Assembly to even attempt an override vote. But how can that be? You'd think that if the legislators worked on a bill all session, and had enough votes to pass it once, they'd simply thank the governor for his input and set aside his veto. So what gives?

Part of the answer might simply be timing. Most bills don't pass until late in the legislative session. It often takes several days to deal with all the legal niceties of legislating, such as "enrolling" the act and getting autographs from the legislative leadership. Only then does the bill go to the governor, and he gets seven more days to decide what to do with it. As a result, nearly all vetoes occur after the session has ended and the legislators have gone home. When they come back to town eight months later, well, sometimes these issues seem a lot less pressing than they once did. Plus, there are newer, shinier bills to work on.

Or sometimes it's just the power of the bully pulpit. The governor sends back a veto message and the legislators collectively say, "Oh, we never really thought of it that way." And then once in a while there's a more partisan "rally the troops" dynamic at play: If the governor's political party is in control of one of the chambers, the party members might decide to support "their governor" and not override the veto, so the other party can't score political points at his expense.

Perhaps these dynamics explain why Daniels has vetoed more bills in the past two weeks than President Bush has in six years. Not only did the Guv pull the rug out from under interior decorators, he canceled the world premiere of a tax incentive plan for the Hoosier film industry. (Bet "The Mitch Daniels Story" won't be in theaters near you anytime soon.) And so much for economic development for lawyers: forsaking his colleagues in the bar, the Guv deep-sixed a bill providing higher attorney's fees in Medicaid lien cases.

Now, the one thing our governor doesn't have-unlike governors in some states-is a line-item veto. Indiana governors from both parties have yearned for that power over the years; to understand why, all you have to do is consider these juicy morsels in the simmering burgoo we call the state budget: $825,000 for a dramatic production of young Abe Lincoln; $500,000 for the Crawford County 4-H; $4 million for the State Fair's Ice Skating Academy; and $1.5 million to renovate the Senate chambers. Yep, $1.5 million: that's $30,000 per senator's desk.

I don't know what they're planning to do, and I suspect the Senate will use an interior designer for this project. But if not, let me offer this advice:

If you talk to the governor, he can get you a deal on some fabulous wallpaper.



Gifford is a partner at the law firm of Baker & Daniels in Indianapolis. His column appears monthly. This article is provided for general information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice for any particular situation. Gifford can be reached at 237-1409 or at ron.gifford@bakerd.com.
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