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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Case questions Otter’s veto on instant racing bill

Which matters more: what the state constitution says or what the Idaho Senate does? That’s the big question in legal arguments submitted to the Idaho Supreme Court in advance of an Aug. 11 hearing in the “instant racing” case, with implications for gambling in Idaho as well as the balance of power among the state’s executive, legislative and judicial branches.

An array of parties filing arguments in the case, led by Coeur d’Alene Racing, operator of the Greyhound Park and Event Center in Post Falls, say it’s up to the Senate to decide if a bill has been properly vetoed or not – and it would violate separation of powers for a court to tell the Senate it’s wrong. “The Idaho State Senate, collectively and on the record, was best situated to judge the validity, timeliness and relevance of Gov. Otter’s veto,” wrote David Leroy, attorney for Greyhound Park and a former Idaho attorney general. “It did so.”

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which filed the lawsuit, strongly disagrees. “The Tribe asks the Court for nothing more than for it to say what the law is, which is squarely the province of the judiciary,” wrote the tribe’s attorney, Deborah Ferguson.

When Gov. Butch Otter vetoed the bill to repeal authorization for slot machine-like “instant racing” machines in the state just two years after they’d first been authorized, he didn’t deliver his veto to the Senate until two days after the constitutionally required five-day deadline, waiting until April 6, the day after Easter Sunday.

Senators acknowledged in their official journal that the veto was delivered after the deadline, submitting three formal letters saying so, and noting both the constitutional provision and a state law that say in that case, the bill becomes law without the governor’s signature. But they took a veto override vote anyway, and it failed, achieving a 19-16 majority but not the required two-thirds. Seven senators who’d originally voted for the bill switched sides and backed the governor’s veto.

The Senate then treated the bill as if it had failed because the veto was not overridden.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe, lead proponent of bill, sued, saying the override vote was meaningless – because according to the Idaho Constitution, the bill already had become law without the governor’s signature two days earlier, when the time limit for a veto expired. They argue that only bills, not laws, can be vetoed. You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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