By Doug Farquhar
Since Kay Ivey took over as Alabama governor after Robert Bentley stepped down, the state hasn’t had a lieutenant governor. The state Senate considered legislation that would limit lieutenant governor duties to only succeeding the governor if that office is vacated.
Senate Bill 88 failed last week. It proposed to strip the office of its legislative role, which includes presiding over the state Senate.
The bill sought to amend the state constitution eliminating the responsibilities of the lieutenant governor to preside over the Senate and vest the powers of the office with the president of the Senate. Members of the Senate would elect the Senate president and president pro tempore. The lieutenant governor would have no say.
"The office of lieutenant governor is designed to preside over the Senate, and be elevated to office of governor if there's a vacancy,” Ivey told AL.com. “The lieutenant governor needs to be well-informed about what's going on in the Legislature. The office makes many appointments to boards and commissions."
The office once had substantial powers. But over the years those powers have waned.
"If you look at the nation as a whole, the role of lieutenant governor in Alabama had been a very strong role in government," added former Lieutenant Governor George McMillan, in office from 1979-83. "The state is better served to have a lieutenant governor who is elected independently, who presides over the Senate, who makes committee assignments and assigns legislation to the appropriate committees."
Former Governor Don Siegelman was instrumental in curtailing the powers of the lieutenant governor, but since has had a change of heart. "I would like to see the powers revert back to the lieutenant governor," Siegelman said in the AL.com story.
The bill would have made the office mostly ceremonial. Ivey found it alarming that there was an effort in the Senate to strip power even further from the lieutenant governor's office as it lays dormant. She would like the former powers taken from the office be fully reinstated.
"None of those powers have been restored," Ivey said. "They've neutered the position as much as they could. They're trying to take away the power of the lieutenant governor."
Even if the bill had passed the Senate, it still would have required the Ivey’s signature and been subject to a vote by the public.
Doug Farquhar is NCSL's liaison to the Alabama Legislature and the program director for the Environmental Health Program.