Magazine article State Legislatures

Close Chambers Yield Chaos, Rifts and Power Sharing

Magazine article State Legislatures

Close Chambers Yield Chaos, Rifts and Power Sharing

Article excerpt

Partisan squabbles can get nasty when the numbers of Republicans and Democrats are close, as they are in the legislatures of Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin and Florida this year.

In Virginia, Republican numbers are at an historic high even though the Democratic speaker was reelected. The House of Delegates is nearly tied with 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and a lone independent leaning toward the GOP.

After the chaos of the first day of session when Democrats refused to seat three Republicans elected in special elections, legislators crafted a powersharing pact that grants the GOP equal representation on committees and shared leadership. Similar to a 1996 Senate agreement, it puts the Republicans on equal footing in both chambers for the first time since 1884.

In Indiana, House Republicans walked out in February when their objections to a Democratic amendment to an insurance bill were overruled by the speaker pro tem. The walkout effectively killed 58 bills on the deadline for second reading Feb. 2.

The House is split 5050, but a law, put in place by Republicans when the House was split in 1989, allows the governor's party to control the chamber. The governor is a Democrat.

The GOP members were back in their seats the next day, however, as the House took on the task of scrutinizing bills sent over from the Senate.

Partisan rifts were not the only splits; Democratic party squabbles made headlines in two states, and both instances of divisions were linked with allegations of racism. …

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