The Idaho Legislature followed a new process this year at the end of its session, sparked in part by an Idaho Supreme Court decision last year that held that bills lawmakers pass are null and void unless they’re presented to the governor before lawmakers adjourn their session sine die, for the year. Under the Idaho Constitution, the governor has five days once he’s presented with a bill to either sign it into law, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature; once lawmakers have adjourned sine die, he has 10 days. But the Legislature this year, after working to ensure it had delivered all its bills to the governor before wrapping up its work, then opted to remain in session for another five days, to preserve its option to override any possible veto. In the end, no vetoes were overridden, though there was one unsuccessful attempt in the House on a teacher evaluation bill.
“It was interesting to talk to our caucus on this issue,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke. “I think they saw this as a turning point in history, or at least a juncture in history where the Legislature could change some precedent. It’s not like we didn’t always have the exact same power that was exercised last Thursday or Friday. Collectively … both sides … wanted to remain there for five days. History will be the judge of whether or not that was effective, but I think that changes the paradigm a little bit going into the future, not only for the Legislature, but also for the executive branch.”
Only the governor can call lawmakers back for a special session after they’ve adjourned sine die. The Idaho Supreme Court decision came in a lawsuit filed by 30 state lawmakers who contended Otter’s veto of a grocery tax repeal bill came too late to be effective, well after lawmakers had left town; the court upheld the veto, while changing the rules going forward.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said, “I think because of the Supreme Court ruling and what happened on a previous veto, the Legislature and certainly our majority caucus felt like we really needed to stay the five days.” Among the questions, he said, was what happens if a bill is not signed; when lawmakers adjourn, does the time clock until the bill automatically becomes law without the governor’s signature still end at the original five days, or does it extend out to 10 days? “I think it was the overwhelming majority of our caucus that felt because of the Supreme Court ruling, that we needed to stay the five days,” Winder said, “not because we didn’t trust the governor.”
“Sure it was,” Otter countered with a grin, prompting Winder to add, “Because if you’d ask the governor what he was going to do, he’d tell you he wasn’t going to tell you. … Because we didn’t know, we had that uncertainty – we stayed. And I think to a person our caucus was pleased that they did stay. It was a historical turning point for the future, I think.”
Otter said, “I probably have a little different perspective on that.” He noted that there’s a cost to taxpayers when the legislative session is extended, making it a pricey “historical exercise.”