Two lawmakers from eastern Idaho say Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter missed the deadline to veto legislation that would have repealed the 6 percent sales tax on groceries.
The Republican governor nixed the proposal late Tuesday evening. Otter has previously said that he had 10 days to make a decision starting when the bill was delivered to his office two days after the session adjourned.
However, GOP Reps. Ron Nate and Bryan Zollinger disagree. The Idaho Falls representatives argued Wednesday that the Idaho Constitution says the 10-day deadline kicks in the minute the Legislature adjourns, not when the governor receives the bill.
Lawmakers went home for the year on March 29. Otter received the grocery tax repeal bill on March 31.
"This is a very popular bill so the issue at hand is very important to Idahoans," Rep. Ron Nate (R- Rexburg) said on Wednesday. "But the constitutional issue is also important to us as lawmakers and I think to Idaho citizens as well."
However, Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney says an Idaho Supreme Court decision says the governor has 10 days from the time he gets the bill. Therefore, based on that Supreme Court ruling, Otter had until Wednesday, April 12, at precisely at 12:05 p.m. to make a decision. That is why Denney is honoring and validating the governor's veto.
"I think there's good arguments on either side but certainly we're not going to overturn a Supreme Court decision," Denney said. "That is the law of the land right now."
The state Supreme Court set that precedent in 1978 in Cenarrusa v. Andrus.
"The exact question that we're dealing with today was part of the question that was dealt with in that," Denney added.
There was even some confusion around the decision deadline during Gov. Otter's end-of-session press conference on April 3.
Denney says if the two lawmakers challenging the governor file a lawsuit, he suspects it will go to the Idaho Supreme Court again.
"They will have another look at it because that was a 3-to-2 decision," Denney said. "They could very well be successful in the Supreme Court."
Jon Hanian, Otter's spokesman, said in an e-mail to KTVB:
"As I mentioned and most simply stated, Rep. Zollinger and Rep. Nate are wrong.
"The governor acted on the bill within the legal time frame in accordance with state law. The Governor had until 12:05 p.m. today (04/12/2017) to act on the legislation. He treated and returned it yesterday evening at 6:16 p.m. well within the ten day time frame. So the veto is legal and valid. The ten day clock started with presentment of the bill to our office, NOT legislative adjournment as was erroneously claimed.
"Cenarrusa v. Andrus succinctly cleared this issue up years ago. In July of 1978 the Idaho Supreme Court issued a precedent setting ruling that has been the guiding principle in these matters: '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.'
"But please don't just take our word for it. You can verify this information with the Secretary of State and Attorney General's offices, both of which confirmed there is no question that the veto is valid."
Supporters of the grocery tax repeal say it would relieve a burden for the average Idahoan so they aren't paying a tax on necessities like food and beverages, while opponents argue it isn't fiscally responsible because it would take money away from the state's general fund.
As of Wednesday, Gov. Otter had vetoed eight bills that came out of this legislative session. The governor vetoed the grocery tax repeal bill after lawmakers had gone home for the year, which is sparking some frustration. In Idaho, once lawmakers adjourn they can't reconvene and override the governors' vetoes.
A North Idaho lawmaker, Sen. Steve Vick (R - Dalton Gardens) wrote an opinion piece about the need to amend the state Constitution to allow for the override of vetoes.
"The Legislature is left short when it comes to the balance of power after the session has adjourned without the ability to override vetoes," Sen. Vick told KTVB in a phone interview. "I believe allowing us to come back in to override vetoes just restores some of that balance of power."
Sen. Vick says Idaho is one of only six states that doesn't have the ability to override a governor's veto after the legislative session has ended. Vick proposed a constitutional amendment in 2014 and 2016 that would change this, and plans on introducing legislation again.
He believes the issue has been highlighted this year with "the governor vetoing several popular bills that were passed with veto proof margins in the Legislature".