Aug. 23, 2001 – Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has pulled in some legislative reins, but Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen is not about to be bridled.
During Wednesday's Senate Finance Committee hearing, Hansen, who chairs the panel, expressed indignation at an edict issued by Turnbull stating that he alone will determine which of his executive branch employees may testify at the Legislature.
Turnbull said in a letter to Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd that effective immediately he will determine which of his officials will appear at hearings. And, he said, senators must submit written requests to have executive branch officers or employees testify before them.
"I shall carefully consider all requests, and in my sole discretion exercise my prerogative to manage and control the executive branch officers and employees appropriately," the governor said, adding that he would do so in a timely manner.
Turnbull told Liburd that having groups of cabinet members and other high-ranking executive branch officers "sitting in the Legislature chambers for countless hours removes these important people from performing their required functions." He said the procedure was "extremely disruptive and counterproductive to efficient government."
At the end of each week, the Legislature issues its calendar of committee hearings and other sessions for the coming week. The schedules often contain long lists of department heads and other administration officials who have been invited as "testifiers." On rare occasions, the Legislature has issued subpoenas for officials who have declined such invitations.
The looming battle of wills between the first and second branches of government may require intervention by the third branch for resolution.
Liburd responded to Turnbull that his action was "at the least, very highly disrespectful … and, at the most, it is unconstitutional, illegal and in violation of sections of the Revised Organic Act of 1954."
Liburd added that he was open to reaching an amicable solution "to avoid a time-consuming and costly court battle."
In their exchange of letters, both officials cited legal precedent for their positions. Liburd said Turnbull's policy violates the Separation of Powers clause of the U.S. Constitution and will limit the Legislature's ability to function. He wrote, "I am truly taken aback by your decision to try and circumvent the Legislative process … "
The situation developed soon after the 24th Legislature took office, as senators would call official after official to testify and leave them sitting ignored in the Senate chambers for hours while the lawmakers conducted other business. Once called to testify, they would sometimes have only minutes to state their views because of time constraints due to the lateness of the day.
On one occasion in July, Hansen had called more than 20 executive agency officials to testify on Turnbull's supplemental appropriations proposal. As the sat waiting, the majority bloc abandoned the chambers to caucus, leaving the officials not-so-silently steaming for about two hours. Hansen said at the time said that any agency representatives who didn't wait to testify could lose their Fiscal Year 2002 appropriations.
Although the consideration of nominations to boards and commissions is usually scheduled before other deliberations on a day's agenda, nominees many times are left sitting while the senators deal with other matters. One commissioner was called to the Senate three times in one week, and was repeatedly left sitting from morning until afternoon.
On Wednesday morning, Hansen made her views clear. "I will not have our authority tramped on," she said, telling Office of Management and Budget Director Ira Mills, "If you want to protect your budget, you have to be here." She added: "I want to put on record that no commissioner fails to attend these budget hearings … I am not accepting any second or third person to come and represent any department."
Hansen said she was speaking for her Finance Committee, not saying what other committees should do. If the top officials who are called to appear before her committee fail to do so, she said, either the committee will issue a subpoena for them, or it may dismiss any lower-ranking representatives who appear and then decide that agency's budget without its input.
Turnbull's letter to Liburd was dated Aug. 1. Liburd's reply was dated Aug. 10. Rina Jacobs McBrowne, Government House spokeswoman, said Thursday that the governor had not responded to Liburd's letter as far as she knew.


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