TRENTON – The Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism, and Historic Preservation Committee approved legislation that would reduce the number of days a legislator may be absent without excuse from his or her duties before the seat is declared vacant.
The bill (S-1471) was submitted by Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R- Union) in response to well-publicized instances in Wisconsin and Texas of minority caucus legislators fleeing their states to block votes being held on controversial pieces of legislation.
“There are a myriad of perfectly legitimate and appropriate reasons- illness, death of a loved one, family crisis, etc.- which would cause a legislator to have an extended absence from his or her duties,” said Kean. “However, throwing a temper tantrum over legislation with which you disagree and running away is not one of them. Cowardly legislators in several states have refused to show up for work to deny the bodies to which they were elected to serve a quorum to do business in well-publicized incidents over the last decade. That is not acceptable behavior and should result in the forfeiture of a legislator’s office.”
Kean’s proposal reduces the permissible number of days a legislator may be absent his or her duties without a valid explanation from ten to five. After five days without a reasonable excuse, that legislator’s seat is deemed vacant and would be filled according to state law.
House Democrats in Texas fled to neighboring Oklahoma to prevent passage of a redistricting proposal with which they disagreed in 2003. More recently, Democratic legislators in Wisconsin and Illinois absconded in 2011 and 2012, respectively, to prevent legislative business from being done in their states.
Kean stressed that the legislation would only apply to those legislators that are absent without sufficient reason. “This isn’t seeking to punish any legislator who has a legitimate reason for not being able to come to Trenton,” he said. “Life happens, and our constituents understand that. What they cannot and should not tolerate is their representatives consciously refusing to show up for work without any good reason.”