You’d think someone who’s been Governor for 10 years would know how to veto, but Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter is having his second veto conflict in three years, after vetoing the grocery tax repeal bill.

You may remember that, during the legislative session, the Senate took a House tax cut bill, and changed everything about it so it repealed the grocery tax instead. The House decided to concur, or agree with, changes the Senate made, so citizens got some sort of tax cut bill out of the session. This all happened a couple of days before the end of the session, so the House sent it to the Governor and then went home.

That’s where it got interesting.

When the Legislature sends the Governor a bill, he has three choices: He can sign it, let it become law without his signature, or veto it. During the legislative session, he has five days to make one of these choices. For bills presented at the end of the legislative session, he has ten days to make one of these choices.

But there’s one big difference: If he vetoes a bill during the legislative session, the Legislature can vote by a two-thirds majority to override the Governor’s veto. Once the Legislature has adjourned sine die for the session, the Legislature can’t come back unless the Governor calls a special session – and obviously the Governor isn’t going to call a special session for the purpose of overriding one of his vetoes.

The grocery tax bill passed on March 27. The Legislature adjourned on Wednesday, March 29. The bill was presented to the Governor on Friday, March 31. The Governor vetoed the bill on Tuesday, April 11.

Two legislators, Reps. Bryan Zollinger and Ron Nate, said, according to the law, the Governor had to veto the bill by ten days after the bill was presented. Since he didn’t, the law must have taken effect without his signature, even though he vetoed it.

What made this particularly interesting is that Gov. Otter had the same sort of problem in 2015 when he vetoed the historic horse racing bill. With a deadline of a Saturday, he vetoed a bill on a Friday, but didn’t tell the Senate until Monday, and the Secretary of State ruled that that veto was invalid.

In this case, Gov. Otter’s staff pointed out that the whole question of whether the clock started settled by a legal case in 1978, when another Governor, Andrus, had also vetoed a bill late and was sued by then Secretary of State Pete Cenerrusa. The state Supreme Court ruled that the clock started when the bill was presented to the Governor. That would make sure the Governor had the same time to consider a bill after adjournment as before it.

According to Zollinger and Nate, the court was wrong, and had only ruled that way in the first place because they had been appointed by Gov. Cecil Andrus. They think the court should hear the case again and come to a different conclusion this time.

In the meantime, the Secretary of State has decided that the Governor’s veto was issued on time. Also, Sen. Steve Vick has put forth a bill twice that would let the Legislature call itself back for a special session for the purpose of overriding a veto. Either that bill, or the grocery tax bill itself, may come back next year.

That still leaves the question of why the Governor waited until the last minute to veto the bill when he had made it pretty clear that’s what he was going to do.


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