Navajo lawmakers to consider override bill

Noel Lyn Smith
The Navajo Nation Council begins its winter session earlier this year in Window Rock, Ariz.

FARMINGTON – The Navajo Nation Council could decide this week whether to override a veto issued last month by the tribal president.

The council will convene in a special session at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the council chamber in Window Rock, Ariz.

The special session was announced in a Dec. 22 memorandum by Speaker LoRenzo Bates after 18 delegates signed a petition calling for the gathering.

The purpose of the special session is to consider legislation to override a veto issued by Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, according to the petition. The petition also states “other pending legislation” will be considered at the special session.

On Nov. 12, Begaye vetoed a council resolution that would have amended the legislative process for bills proposed to the council and its standing committees. The resolution also would have amended the president’s authority to issue line-item vetoes for budget items.

When Begaye exercised his veto authority, he stated the line-item veto authority was granted by Navajo voters in a 2009 referendum election and any amendment can only be made through an initiative process.

Begaye stated in a Dec. 16 press release from his office that the council “should not challenge” the vote of the people.

“The line-item veto authority was given to the president directly by the people, only the people can limit and clarify this authority. This is not a question for the Navajo Nation Council, this is a question only the Navajo people can answer,” Begaye stated in the release.

Delegate Alton Joe Shepherd is sponsoring the legislation that calls for the override.

The Naa’bik’íyáti’ Committee, whose membership consists of the 24 delegates, passed the legislation 10-8 on Dec. 17.

In a press release about the committee meeting from the Speaker’s Office, Shephard said the legislation is not an attempt to “take away” the authority approved by the referendum.

“The president will still have the line-item authority, but we are looking to clarify that authority to ensure checks and balances between the three branches of government,” Shepherd said in the release.

An override must be approved by two-thirds vote of the council, according to tribal law.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.