“The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.”
Edmund Burke, Speech on the Middlesex Election, 1771.
While constructing the greatest nation ever known to man, our forefathers displayed amazing wisdom by putting in place a balance of power between the three branches of government. The checks and balances that exist between our judicial, executive and legislative branches continue to serve our nation and our state exceptionally well.
We are continuously reminded of Georgia’s balance of power as our citizen legislators create new laws that are challenged in our courts and sometimes vetoed by our governor.
During the 2005 legislative session the state legislature, after many heated and passionate debates, passed a new voter ID law requiring voters to produce a photo ID before being allowed to vote. The law was ruled unconstitutional on two separate occasions by a Federal Court judge and, after changes were made during the next legislative session, was finally approved by the judge. As a result, the law was enacted and went into effect this past September, nearly 2-1/2 years later.
In 2006 the legislature passed one of the nation’s toughest sex offender laws only to see parts of the law, such as how close a convicted sex offender can live to a bus stop, struck down by the courts. Although the majority of the intentions of our citizen legislators in this law are in effect today, some parts may never be approved by the courts and therefore never go into effect.
As is his right under our state’s constitution, Gov. Sonny Perdue vetoed 41 bills passed by the legislature this year as well as numerous spending items in the 2008 budget approved by the legislature.
While these are credible examples of how our state’s balance of power is set up to operate, what happens when the executive and judicial branches get out of control?
Some believe that the most difficult branch of government to keep in check is the judicial branch. Many judges are appointed for life and therefore, right or wrong, are often accused of losing touch with their constituents. Legislators are often critical of judges trying to “legislate from the bench” and are often frustrated by their inability to control such judicial actions.
While the legislature has the authority to override a governor’s veto with a two-thirds vote of both chambers, Gov. Perdue irked many legislators this year by using so called “language re-directs” while approving this year’s budget. In using these “language re-directs” the governor instructed state agency heads to disregard legislative instructions included in the budget for how money should be spent in certain areas and spend it as they see fit.
Besides putting state agency heads in an uncomfortable position, this action also undermines the ability of citizen legislators to draft a state budget. Although a threatened special session never evolved, this confrontation is far from over and likely will lead to heated debate during the next session.
While having checks over the judicial and executive branches are certainly important, perhaps the most concerning development came last week when the state Board of Community Health announced that they are moving ahead with proposed changes to the certificate of need regulations controlling construction of health care facilities in our state. Frustrated by the legislature’s failure to address the issue last session, the department has decided to take matters in their own hands and change the rules themselves.
While it remains to be seen whether the Board of Community Health goes through with the proposed changes, one thing is certain — unless the judicial, executive and especially state departments are held in check the balance of power that our forefathers so creatively envisioned will be grossly out of sync. And with our state’s citizen legislature being neutralized it will be as if “the tail wags the dog.”