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Monday, September 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

Of vetoes, bill-signings and deadlines…

Here’s an oddity: On Friday, April 8, I wrote that Gov. Butch Otter had signed his last bill from this year’s legislative session and allowed four others to become law without his signature. His office explained to me that once the session has adjourned sine die, he has 10 days, excluding Sundays, from the time and date the bill is delivered to his office to act on the bill, or it becomes law without his signature. It sometimes takes a few days for the bills to get all their required processing from the House and Senate and make their way down to the governor's office, spokesman Jon Hanian said; his office received its last stack of bills on March 28 at 4:42 p.m., making Friday April 8 at 4:42 p.m. the last possible time he could take action on bills, in his office's view.

However, the Idaho Constitution says after the Legislature has adjourned, the 10-day clock starts ticking from the moment of adjournment, not from when the bill is presented to the governor, as does the five-day clock that applies prior to adjournment. So by that measure, the deadline would have been, as pointed out by a commenter on this blog, 12:09 p.m. on April 6th – 10 days, excluding Sundays, after the official adjournment at 12:09 p.m. on March 25.

In this case, the difference is academic, as Otter didn't veto any bills after April 5th.  It could mean that when he signed the Attorney General’s budget bill – which his website shows he signed on April 8 – it actually already had become law; the outcome is the same either way. But if he had issued a veto later, it seems his veto might have been invalid and the bill might have become law without his signature - like last year's "historical horse racing" ban bill did.

However, there’s more to this story. In a 1978 Idaho Supreme Court case, Cenarrusa v. Andrus, the court held that the governor has “10 full days from date of presentment” to act on bills after the Legislature has adjourned – even though that’s not what the Constitution says. That’s the established case law in Idaho now, so legally, the governor’s correct.

Here’s how Justice Stephen Bistline put it in that 1978 decision: “We conclude that the governor has ten full days from the date of presentment in which to consider bills presented to him after adjournment of the Idaho Legislature.”

In the instant racing case last year, it wasn’t the 10-day limit that was at issue; it was the 5-day limit, from presentment, while the Legislature is still in session. But the gaming case did touch on this issue when Justice Daniel Eismann, in his concurrence, was sharply critical of the court’s finding in Cenarrusa, writing, “Unfortunately, a majority of the Cenarrusa Court chose to disregard the plain meaning of the Idaho Constitution in order to uphold the veto under a hypothetical set of facts that were unrelated to the facts of the case.” That suggests the court could, perhaps, rethink this in a future case.

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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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