Fine awaits Texas Democrats
Eric Allen for News 8, Austin TX, 8/12/2003
The Texas Supreme Court on Monday refused a GOP-led request to compel the missing lawmakers to return to Austin. Senate Republicans are going for the pocket book as they try to compel Democrats to return to Austin. On Tuesday, Republicans used a provision in the Texas constitution to fine the missing Democrats for each day they continue to stay in Albuquerque.
The state constitution says the Senate can compel the Democrats to return using the rules of the Senate. The problem is that the Senate rules for the special session say nothing about fines or other penalties for breaking a quorum. Attorney General Greg Abbott supports the Republican position.
The decision to fine the Democrats wasn't easy for some Republican Senators. Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, wasn't happy as he walked out of a lengthy closed-door meeting. At issue was how to bring the Democrats back. The decision was to make them pay. Ratliff spoke out against redistricting, walked out of a meeting with Dewhurst and didn't stay for the vote on the resolution.
"The present members of the Senate hereby impose a penalty of ,000 per day, doubling each day, not to exceed ,000 each day," Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said.
"This was the administrative procedure that the Senate felt was most appropriate to have the absent Senators return," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said.
The Democrats in Albuquerque said the Republicans lack the authority to enforce the fines because it's not authorized under current Senate rules. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who is also an attorney, spoke after the Republicans approved the fines. "It's ludicrous. I'm shocked that they couldn't get better legal advice," he said.
Whitmire also made it clear he had no intention of paying the fines. If the Democrats don't return and the fines aren't paid, the Republicans promise more penalties. "We're in the process as we speak to agree on the sanctions that will be imposed," Dewhurst said.
The Texas Senate has a long history of bipartisan spirit, but this fight could destroy the good sentiments built during the regular session. "The Texas Senate is recognized as the greatest legislative body in the world and I would suggest that it's not that today," Whitmire said.
Dewhurst said any fines paid by the Democrats would go to the state's general revenue. The fines begin accumulating Thursday.
Ratliff was clearly angry and had said before hand he stood by the notion that the Democrats have a constitutional right to break quorum. Dewhurst and the Abbott both said on Tuesday the Democrats do not have that right.
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