Bill containing veto override does not pass

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

FARMINGTON – Members of the Navajo Nation Council on Wednesday failed to override a veto issued by the tribal president last month.

The bill containing the override failed, garnering only 10 of the 22 votes cast. It needed the approval of two-thirds of the council to pass during a special session held in the council chamber in Window Rock, Ariz.

In November, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye exercised his veto authority on a bill that would have amended the legislative process for measures proposed to the council and its standing committees. Another aspect would have amended the president's authority to issue line-item vetoes for budget items.

Delegate Alton Joe Shepherd, who sponsored the override bill, said during his presentation to the council the amendment did not remove the president’s line-item veto authority. Rather, he said, it was a way to strengthen the system of checks and balances between the branches.

"I want to make it clear … the thing that we're trying to do here is not to override the line-item veto authority law that was given to the president by initiative vote," Shepherd said.

The line-item veto authority was granted to the president in December 2009 when voters approved a referendum initiative authorizing its use.

Shepherd explained he was part of the effort to garner support for the 2009 initiative. He said he traveled door to door across the Navajo Nation to inform voters about its purpose.

He added that the line-item veto authority was developed to prevent overspending by tribal officials. He explained that previous councils often attached riders to bills, and those riders did not follow the appropriations process mandated by tribal law, which resulted in the president either vetoing or signing a bill into law with the rider attached.

Shepherd said since the line-item veto authority was granted, no deficits have not occurred in the tribal budget.

"The president still has that authority, to line-item budgets that aren't fiduciary and hadn't gone through the right process," he said.

Shepherd and Speaker LoRenzo Bates were among those who voted for the bill. Also voting in favor of its passage were delegates Nelson BeGaye, Benjamin Bennett, Seth Damon, Davis Filfred, Lee Jack Sr., Tauchoney Slim Jr., Otto Tso and Leonard Tsosie.

Those who opposed the bill were Mel Begay, Norman Begay, Nathaniel Brown, Tom Chee, Amber Kanazbah Crotty, Herman Daniels Jr., Jonathan Perry, Leonard Pete, Walter Phelps, Raymond Smith Jr., Dwight Witherspoon and Edmund Yazzie.

In a telephone conference call The Daily Times participated in with Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez after the council's decision, both leaders applauded the 12 delegates who opposed the bill.

"We're very pleased with the vote. …In a nutshell, the people won. We appreciate the people across the nation speaking out, contacting their delegates," Begaye said.

Also during the special session, the council approved bills containing the appointments of Donald Benn as executive director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency and Garrett Silversmith as division director of the tribe’s Division of Transportation.

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