Letter to the editor:
Given the recent elections resulting in a 20-20 split between the parties in the Senate of Virginia, some Republicans have suggested that they have the upper hand in drawing the rules, assigning chairmanships and controlling committees because the Lieutenant Governor, who presides over the Senate and breaks tie votes on legislation, is a Republican. However, this is not so.
The last time the Senate was split 20-20 in 1996, the precedent was established to share power between the parties. This was successfully and amicably done when the Lieutenant Governor was a Democrat. Power was shared; committees and committee chairs were divided to accommodate in a reasonable way each party regardless who might be the Lieutenant Governor.
Moreover, the Constitution of Virginia does not call for the Lieutenant Governor to vote on reorganization which occurs every four years. His power to vote to break ties does not include all matters. For example, he does not vote on the budget, taxes or the election of judges, as the constitution provides that a majority of members elected to each house is required in such cases. Va. Const., Art. IV, §11 (budget, taxes); Va. Const., Art. VI., §7 (judicial elections). Other matters, such as resolutions to amend the constitution, also require a majority of members elected to cast an affirmative vote. Va. Const., Art. XII, § 1 (amendments). Likewise, he does not vote on reorganizational matters as he is not elected to the Senate.
On reorganizational matters, the constitution provides that “Each house shall select its officers and settle its rules of procedure.” Va. Const., Art. IV, §7. Each house is defined as consisting of members who are elected to the respective house; thus, a majority of members of each house is required to select officers and settle rules of procedure. The constitution expressly states that “The Senate shall consist of not more than forty and not less than thirty-three members, who shall be elected quadrennially by the voters of the several senatorial districts . . . . ” Va. Const., Art. IV, §2. The Rules of the Senate – agreed to by both parties – further provides that “A member of the Senate shall be a Senator elected to represent one of the 40 senatorial districts”. Rule 5, Rules of the Senate, adopted Jan 9, 2008, as amended Jan. 18, 2010. Clearly, the Lieutenant Governor is not a Senator and not a member of any house. He does not sit on committees, does not debate legislation on the floor, and is not elected contemporaneously with Senators. There is no reason that he would inject himself in reorganization of the Senate every four years.
In short, since the Lieutenant Governor is not a member of the Senate, he has no role to play in reorganizing the Senate. The Senate Republican caucus took this position in 1996; that position prevailed and became the established precedent for reorganizing the Senate of Virginia. Thus, the forty senators will have to decide this issue in the manner they did in 1996. There is no reason they cannot do so when the Senate convenes in January.
Some Republicans have also suggested that redistricting of the U.S. House of Representatives should be delayed until the new year when they will have more influence over the new Senate. Again, the Virginia Constitution is on point. It states that Congressional redistricting must be done in 2011. Article 11, § 6 dealing with apportionment expressly provides that “The General Assembly shall reapportion the Commonwealth into electoral districts in accordance with this section in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter.” Va. Const., Art. II, § 6. Thus, the legislature has no jurisdiction to reorganize in other years; to do so would allowa majority to take advantage of reapportionment to improve its political position whenever it wishes.
If the 2011 redistricting session ~ which was continued until after the elections — fails to agree, the only remedy is for a federal or state court to resolve the matter and redraw the congressional seats in Virginia as required by the constitution.
-John S. Edwards, State Senator
21s t District of Virginia