“But they’re closed on Saturday!”
And not there on Friday either.
The Idaho Supreme Court decision last week throwing out Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s veto of the bill to ban instant horse racing at Les Bois Park, an action which has split pieces of the state executive and legislative branches down the middle, reads like a complex and abstract piece in most news reports. Attorney David Leroy called it a “sweeping and significant precedent.” Otter said he was certain the the veto he signed was valid.
What the court decision mostly was, was a recital of the law.
Let’s break it down.
Late in the afternoon of March 30, a Monday, Senate Bill 1011 (the racing bill) was physically carried to Otter’s office. He then could sign it into law, if he chose, or do nothing, in which case the bill would become law automatically. (Governors sometimes but not usually do this.) Or, he could veto it, but if he wanted to do that, he had to act promptly. The Idaho Constitution says: “Any bill which shall not be returned by the governor to the legislature within five days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, shall become a law in like manner as if he had signed it,” unless the legislature has already adjourned for the year. Which it hadn’t.
Otter’s choice was a veto, and he may have signed his veto message on April 3, a Friday. That’s within the five-day period. But the Constitution says the vetoed bill had to be returned to the legislature, specifically to the Senate, within those five days - that is, by Saturday afternoon. There was a complication: That was Easter weekend, and the legislature had adjourned on Thursday to take three days off.
Whether because of sloppiness or over-confidence or some other motivation, Otter or his staff must have thought it would be all right if the vetoed bill went back to the Senate the next Monday morning - which was more than five days (with Sunday not counted) after the bill was presented to him. What’s a few hours among friends?
And besides, what choice did he have? The legislature wasn’t there on Friday, right? The office doors were closed. How could he return the bill?
But the Idaho code actually covers a case like this. It says (in Section 67-504), “If, on the day the governor desires to return a bill without his approval and with his objections thereto to the house in which it originated, that house has adjourned for the day (but not for the session), he may deliver the bill with his message to the presiding officer, clerk, or any member of such house, and such delivery is as effectual as though returned in open session, if the governor, on the first day the house is again in session, by message notifies it of such delivery, and of the time when, and the person to whom, such delivery was made.”
In other words, the veto could have stuck if the governor’s office had on Friday or Saturday tracked down any state senator and handed him or her the vetoed bill - and then formally notified the Senate on Monday.
It helps if you know how things work. And what the law says.
The Idaho Supreme Court did make an interesting and possibly new point about “standing” when it held the Coeur d’Alene Tribe had standing to bring the case. But when it came to deciding this convoluted question of whether the veto was valid or not, it simply recited the law.