Virginia’s lieutenant governor tells senators his tiebreaking vote is limited

January 3, 2012

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who will preside over a Virginia Senate equally divided between Republicans and Democrats when the legislature reconvenes next week, said Tuesday that he believes he can vote on key procedural issues but not on the state budget and tax bills.

In a four-page memo written to senators, Bolling (R) said he has concluded that several issues, including the election of judges and amendments to the Virginia Constitution, require the approval of a majority of members elected to the Senate.

“I recognize that senators on both sides of the aisle may be disappointed with my conclusions, albeit for entirely different reasons,” Bolling said in a statement. “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.”

Bolling said he relied on a “clear reading” of the Virginia Constitution; a pair of opinions from prior attorneys general, in 1980 and 1996; and advice from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R).

Bolling and Cuccinelli have sparred several times since Cuccinelli announced last month that he will run against the lieutenant governor for governor in 2013. The attorney general has been asked for an official opinion about control of the Senate but has not yet issued one.

Last November’s elections left the Senate with 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats. The GOP says that with a Republican serving as lieutenant governor, who casts tiebreaking votes, it has control of the chamber, allowing the party to appoint a majority leader, run committees and determine which bills go to the Senate floor for a vote. Democrats contend that they are entitled to share power.

Last month, a Richmond judge ruled against Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond), who serves as chairman of his caucus, in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Democrats seeking to block Republicans from asserting control of the Senate.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge Beverly W. Snukals declined to issue a temporary injunction but did not rule on the underlying claim of the lawsuit, which asks the court for a judgment that the lieutenant governor is not entitled to vote on certain matters.

“This is no compromise,” McEachin said. “The fact of the matter is he continues to assert that he may invade the province of the Senate, and that is a matter on which we continue to disagree.”

Bolling’s announcement was praised by Republicans, including Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, who hopes a GOP-controlled General Assembly will help him get his priorities passed, including his first two-year budget.

“I agree with the lieutenant governor’s analysis of his authority and responsibilities as president of the Virginia State Senate, and thank him for his correct legal analysis,” McDonnell said in a statement.

Senate Republicans are using Bolling’s decision as another reason for Democrats to drop their challenges to control of the Senate.

“There is little ambiguity in this situation, and those who continue to challenge his constitutional authority are doing so solely for partisan advantage,” said Sen. Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover), who serves as chairman of his caucus.

Staff writer Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.

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