State Legislation Clarifies that Counties have No Line-Item Veto Authority over Election Commission Budgets

March 14, 2011
State Senator Mae Beavers

A bill sponsored by State Senator Mae Beavers makes clear that county governments do not have the authority to make line-item vetoes in the budgets of local election commissions.

Senator Beavers told WJLE Monday that this legislation simply clarifies already existing case law. "I just want to set the record straight on what we're doing. We are clarifying the law according to the case law. Decisions have been made in court as to some of these things so we're just clarifying the law to be in line with the case law," said Senator Beavers.

"The bill says county commissions have no line-item veto authority over the election commission budget. That has been case law for ever and ever as to any entity in the county. I found that out when I served on the county commission (Wilson County). I've been there. I've done that. I'm not going to do anything to harm the county. But county commissioners simply can't go through each and every budget and cut out the line items that they want to cut out. I know how county commissioners feel. I've been there. I've felt the same way. But I was told at that time that we did not have line item veto authority over anybody's budget. So this is just clarifying the law," said Senator Beavers

"The court has also ruled in the past that (election commissions) are a state agency more or less but they're funded by the county and they (election commissioners) have to present a reasonable budget. The law already says that the budget can't be any less than the year before. This bill clarifies that if the county commission does not fund them (election commissions) in a reasonable manner with the money they need to conduct elections, that they (election commissions) can go to Chancery Court and ask the court to make a ruling. That's not anything new. We're just clarifying the law," according to Senator Beavers.

"There's no reason for anybody to get excited. If they think this is going to cost the county money, it's not. We got the fiscal note on this Sunday and there is no fiscal impact to the state or the county. Its simply not going to harm the county at all. Its not changing things," said concluded.

Present law generally requires each county to fund the operations of its election commission. If a county fails to appropriate funds sufficient to pay expenses that are reasonably necessary for the discharge of the statutorily mandated duties of its county election commission, the commission is authorized to petition the chancery court of the county in which such election commission is located to compel the appropriation of such funds.

This bill specifies that counties do not have the authority to make line-item vetoes to items in their election commissions' budgets. This bill specifies that the decision whether to petition a chancery court for an appropriation lies solely within the commission's discretion. This bill designates clear and convincing evidence of unreasonableness as the burden of proof that a county must meet in order to defeat a commission's petition to compel an appropriation. This bill also requires that the county must pay the commission's legal fees that are associated with the commission's funding.

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