Virginia's state senate is split between Democrats and Republicans 20-20, but the tiebreaking role of the lieutenant governor is being questioned.
Virginia Democrats said Monday they intend to file a lawsuit challenging the right of Republicans to seize a majority in the evenly divided state Senate.
Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw told reporters on a conference call that the state Constitution gives the Lieutenant Governor a vote when there’s an equal division. He added that only using that power for legislative matters is settled law: "And in fact, even on appropriated matters, most lieutenant governors have said they can’t vote on budgetary matters and judgeships, things like that, where it specifically says ‘the majority of those elected.'"
Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling disagrees, and referred to UVA Law Professor A.E. Dick Howard, who directed the commission that wrote the 1971 state Constitution: "Professor Howard’s opinion in 1996, which was written at the request of the Democratic-controlled Senate Rules Committee, opined that the lieutenant governor’s ability to vote was almost limitless. There may be some areas where one can raise legitimate questions about that."
But he said not in this case. Democrats argued that Senators should share power -- as they did 16 years ago. Republicans countered that they’re adhering to the will of voters, who gave GOP Senators 57 percent of all votes.