Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling insists he has the authority to cast a tie-breaking vote that would give Republicans a majority in the evenly-divided Virginia Senate.
But in a memorandum to state senators released this morning, Bolling acknowledged that his ability to cast votes in the Senate is limited by the state’s constitution. The Republican lieutenant governor said he could not break ties on matters such as the state budget, the appointment of judges, and constitutional amendments.
“I recognize that Senators on both sides of the aisle may be disappointed with my conclusions, albeit for entirely different reasons,” Bolling wrote in his four-page memorandum. “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.”
Republicans gained two Senate seats in the Nov. 8 elections to achieve a 20-20 split with Democrats. Bolling quickly declared that his tie-breaking vote would allow the Senate to organize with a Republican majority, enabling the GOP to have majorities on Senate committees. The General Assembly will begin its 2012 session on Jan. 11.
Democratic Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico County, filed a lawsuit last month contesting Bolling’s authority to vote on the Senate’s organization and certain other matters. A Richmond judge denied mcEachin’s request for a temporary injunction that would keep the lieutenant governor from voting on disputed matters until the lawsuit is resolved.
Bolling reiterated in his memo that he believes the state constitution allows him to cast a tie-breaking vote on the Senate’s organization, citing a provision which states: “Each house shall select its officers and settle its rules of procedure.”
But Bolling, who reviewed past opinions from state attorneys general and consulted with his own counsel, said he believes he is not empowered to break ties on final passage of legislation that requires the vote of a majority of the “members elected” to the Senate.
Bolling said the lieutenant governor “does have broad authority to vote on most matters coming before the Senate that result in an equal division, but the Lieutenant Governor is not an elected member of the Senate. Therefore, the plain meaning of this phrase would appear to limit the Lieutenant Governor’s ability to vote on the final passage of the narrow category of bills that require the vote of a ‘majority of the members elected to each house’ to pass.”
Bolling said the prohibition would apply to appropriations and tax bills, constitutional amendments, judicial appointments and the creation of new offices.
“I believe that what I have outlined above is a correct and impartial interpretation and application of the Constitution of Virginia, and therefore, I will act accordingly on any matters that come before the Senate,” Bolling wrote.
Senate Republican leaders agreed with Bolling’s assessment.
“The lieutenant governor’s memorandum is spot on,” said Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover County, the chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus. “There is little ambiguity in this situation, and those who continue to challenge his constitutional authority are doing so solely for partisan advantage.”
– Michael Sluss