Let the Sun ShineIt's nearly unanimous - Record votes!
Dallas Morning News Editorial
December 14, 2003
OK. So we're not crazy.
Throughout the year, we have raised questions about the Texas Legislature choosing when to record its votes. According to current rules, the Texas House and Senate may vote simply by voice or other informal ways without having individual votes recorded. The House records votes by name only if three members request it.
We said: That's balderdash. It's not the way a democratic system was designed to work. Constituents need to know how members vote to hold them accountable.
Now we find out that an overwhelming majority of Texans agree.
In a recent survey, the Scripps Howard Texas Poll asked Texans that very question: Do you agree or disagree that Texas legislators should be required to record their votes? Eighty-four percent said legislators should be required to record their votes by name.
In fact, 80 percent of Texans say they favor a constitutional amendment requiring Texas legislators to record their votes. We're for that. Put it before the voters. We believe that they will support an amendment requiring legislators to vote by name? for all to see.
Texas is one of fewer than 10 states nationwide that don't require their legislatures to record votes. Of the 10 most populous states, Texas is the only one that doesn't require recording votes on final passage of legislation.
We documented, in the last legislative session, dozens of important and controversial issues in which major decisions were made by voice vote from provisions watering down the ethics bill to the lessening of prosecutors' authority to go after polluters.
Legislators should be required to record all votes on second and third readings of bills, on amendments, conference committee reports and constitutional resolutions. And those votes should be available on the Internet.
On the basis of the recent Texas Poll, we reiterate our call for legislators to act on this issue, to show that they believe in full disclosure of the public's business and that they are responding on this issue to what readers say they want.
After all, most other states in the nation already do this.
By the time the next regular session rolls around in 2005, Texas should too. Legislators should have in place new voting procedures that make them more accountable to the voters. And candidates for election to the Legislature in 2004 should campaign for office on support for this move.
Here's an important point: According to this Texas Poll, 77 percent of Texans surveyed said that they would be more likely to support a candidate who supports record votes.
This isn't isolated abuse. In the 2001 regular session, the House recorded votes on fewer than half of the 1,601 measures it passed and that doesn't count the myriad amendment votes that go unrecorded. Here are few of the actions the 2003 Legislature took without recording its votes:
Permitted insurance companies to use an applicant's credit history in deciding whether to provide insurance.
Allowed the state to seize the homes of some deceased nursing home patients.
Dropped a requirement that political contributors of $500 or more must disclose their occupations and employers (later restored in a conference committee).
Refused to expand prosecutors' authority to go after polluters whose illegal acts pose an imminent threat to public health.
Voted on two key bill provisions regarding residential construction defects and mold remediation.
Lawmakers vote differently when they know their votes will be on record. A motion earlier this year to table a bill having to do with electronically filed campaign reports--essentially killing it--appeared headed to easy passage until a recorded vote was requested. Suddenly, the vote flipped, and the motion to table failed.
For a collection of editorials on this topic, and a sampling of the letters from more than 150 readers who believe Texas lawmakers should be required to publicly document their votes, go to DallasNews.com/opinions and click on Let the Sun Shine.
Contact your state senators and representatives. To find the names of those who represent your area, go to "Voting Districts" on the Opinion page of DallasNews.com.