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Wednesday, August 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

Of legislative rules, vetoes and time limits…

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, is taking issue with something I said on Friday’s “Idaho Reports” program, when I said there’s “no limit” on how long the Legislature takes to present a bill to the governor, and she’s got a good point. As Boyle points out, in the Joint Rules of the Senate and House, Rules 4 and 5 do address this: Rule 4 says that bills shall be “enrolled” in the house where they passed within 48 hours, and Rule 5 says that the remaining steps after enrollment – reporting, and then signing by the presiding officer of each house, followed by presentation to the governor – shall all happen within 72 hours of enrollment. That means the two joint rules, taken together, allow a maximum of five days after passage before a bill is presented to the governor.

“Those rules, along with the Constitution, are for the protection of the process so no one can play games with bills which have passed both bodies,” Boyle says. “Together the rules, backed by the Constitution, protect the legislature, the governor and the citizens to assure everyone the rule of law applies to all. This is exactly why we feel the lawsuit is necessary.”

During the legislative session, the governor has five days after a bill is presented to him by the Legislature to either sign or veto it, or it becomes law without his (or her) signature. After lawmakers have adjourned for the year, the Constitution says the governor has 10 days after adjournment to act on a bill or it becomes law; the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that that 10-day clock starts ticking when the bill is presented to the governor, rather than on the date of adjournment.

That’s the subject of a lawsuit filed by 30 members of the Legislature – including Boyle – challenging Gov. Butch Otter’s veto of the grocery tax repeal. The lawmakers contend that while Otter was within 10 days if the clock started ticking when he received the bill, he missed the 10-day deadline if the clock instead starts ticking upon adjournment. If they persuade the high court to overturn its longstanding precedent, the grocery tax repeal bill could become law.

The rules of the House and Senate are set by the Legislature itself; they can be changed at any time by vote of either house, or for joint rules, by a two-thirds vote of both houses. This year, the House approved amendments to House Rule 78, regarding contests of election results; and the Senate added a new Senate Rule 54, also dealing with contests of election results.  

Steve Taggart, an Idaho Falls attorney who has researched these issues, said, “They could change their rule and just sit on it.”

So who enforces the rules of the Legislature? The Legislature itself; courts give deference to the Legislature in the operation of its own internal rules, under the doctrine of separation of powers, and also specifically under Article 3, Section 9 of the Idaho Constitution.

In the 1978 Cenarrusa v. Andrus decision, the Idaho Supreme Court wrote, “In this case, the choice is between a construction of our constitutional language which would provide a definite amount of time for gubernatorial consideration of bills, and one which would have the effect of allowing the legislature to determine the amount of time allowed to a governor, severely limiting it if the legislature so chose.”

And while taking note of the legislative rules, the court held, “There is no provision on our Constitution governing the time within which the legislature must present bills to the governor, and it is not for this Court to impose any limitation as to time. … Our Constitution itself contains nothing which precludes presentation of bills more than 10 days after adjournment sine die. If we were to hold that the governor was without power to veto a bill more than 10 days after adjournment, the legislature would be in a position to defeat at will one of the constitutionally granted powers of a separate and coequal branch of government merely by delaying presentment beyond the time in which the governor could act.”

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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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