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Thursday, March 23rd, 2017Last Update: Friday, February 3rd, 2017 01:39:14 PM

Vote Walking

By: Rep. Jason Murphey

Each year, members of the Legislature cast votes impacting almost every aspect of life: from public safety to education to the expenditure of billions of your taxpayer dollars. These votes occur in two-minute segments during which time the lawmaker must make up his mind: will he vote yes, or no?

If the pressure on the lawmaker is too much, there is an antiquated system that allows the lawmaker to duck the vote completely.

He simply walks out of the chamber and refuses to vote at all. It's called "walking the vote," a bad legislative policy that needs to be fixed because it deprives the constituents from holding their legislator accountable.

There should never be a reason for a lawmaker not to vote, especially when the lawmaker is in the Capitol building.

A few years ago, I watched this abuse occur as the House considered a bill which removed the statutory salary cap of several agency directors.

This was obviously a bad proposal. It allowed the boards of various bureaucracies to potentially grant very large salary increases to the agency directors.

These caps serve as an important check and balance on state agencies and should always remain on the books. If a cap is too low, it may be appropriate for the Legislature to increase it, but the salary cap should never be eliminated.

As the House vote was ongoing, several of the agency officials who would potentially receive raises watched from the enclosed gallery above the east wall of the House.

During the vote, one of the legislators who aggressively campaigned as an opponent to measures such as this, slowly walked back to the voting box only to react with apparent feigned disgust when the vote was closed before he could register his vote. Right after he missed the vote, he looked up to the east gallery where one of the agency heads directly acknowledged his "missed vote" with an exaggerated and enthusiastic gesture of appreciation.

Observing moments like these are probably the hardest part of this job.

That legislator's constituents likely reacted in horror when they read of the massive raises given out to the state's agency directors. But, not one of that legislator's constituents probably knew what he did that day or the role he played in enabling these types of raises. He was never held to account by those who put their trust in him to guard their taxpayer dollars from these abuses. The official vote shows him as "excused" without having taken a position on the bill.

A review of voting tally sheets will show there are several lawmakers who are "excused" on many if not most votes.

Sometimes this is for valid reasons, but even then constituents are still deprived of their representation.

The Legislature should utilize a modernized system that registers and forces lawmakers' votes regardless of arbitrary time limits or location. With today's technology, there is rarely a good reason for a lawmaker to miss a vote. And there is never a good reason why all of those votes should not be recorded and published for all to see.

Technology has advanced to the point where policy makers could easily vote wherever they are, those votes could be immediately published in an open and transparent manner, and never again could a politician duck a vote by claiming he didn't get to his voting box in time or wasn't able to be at work.

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