Sunday, February 11, 2007

"No amount of carping, complaining or yelling and screaming is going to change that."

Says Texas Governor Rick Perry's spokesman, Robert Black, regarding the governor's order that all 12-year-old girls receive a vaccine for a sexually-transmitted virus.

Emphasizing the slight authority given Texas governors by history, two Austin lawyers say Gov. Rick Perry lacked the power to issue last week's order requiring girls to be vaccinated against a virus that causes cervical cancer.

Perry's office counters that as the state's chief official, he can guide executive branch agencies.

"No amount of carping, complaining or yelling and screaming is going to change that," Perry spokesman Robert Black said. "If they want to challenge it, my guess is, they both know a trial lawyer or two to do their bidding. We'd be happy to take the governor's constitutional authority to court."

That sounds to me like Black was throwing down the gauntlet. He should be careful or some enterprising trial lawyer(s) will pick it up. Well, maybe they have:
Buck Wood, a lawyer whose career included work in Gov. John Connally's office in the 1960s, criticized the order. "This isn't even arguable. The governor doesn't have any power to dictate to any agency about what rules it makes."

Scott McCown, who served 14 years as a Democratic state district judge in Travis County, voiced similar concerns. Although state law permits governors to issue orders in emergencies, he said, Perry's move to protect young women doesn't clear that hurdle.

"It's a judgment call," said McCown, who initially commented in a column in Wednesday's American-Statesman. "But there is no way this is even close. There is no way this even qualifies" as an emergency.

The executive powers of Texas governors are notoriously restricted. The main power of governor is in being able to call the legislature into special session for 30 days. But executive orders? Let's see, Perry hasn't issued too many controversial executive orders. In fact, he hasn't done it at all (unless you consider creation of a Texas Task Force on Appraisal Reform to be cutting edge stuff).

The problem for Perry is that his bull-headedness on this issue has drawn way more attention to his heavy-handed approach instead of focusing it on why this vaccine should be mandatory. By not involving the legislature, he has virtually cut off debate among the electorate, and Texans are famously ornery.
"This is nuclear," said Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple. She spoke Wednesday as Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, circulated a letter to House colleagues to be sent to Perry, asking him to rescind the order.

"Regardless of whether it is a wise idea to vaccinate a child to prevent a sexually transmitted virus," Isett's letter says, "the legislative process is robust enough to give voice to every side of this issue."

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, asked Attorney General Greg Abbott for an expedited opinion on whether governors can issue executive orders.

"If so, does the law provide broad powers to grant executive orders, or are those powers limited to specific circumstances?" her letter asks.