A group of 30 lawmakers, including some legislative leaders, is urging the Idaho Supreme Court to overturn a nearly 40-year-old ruling on when the governor can veto a bill.
According to the lawsuit filed Wednesday, lawmakers contend that Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter violated the Idaho Constitution earlier this year when he vetoed a proposal that would have repealed the 6 percent sales tax on groceries.
In 1978, the state's highest court ruled a governor has 10 days to veto or approve a bill starting when it lands on his desk. However, some of the Statehouse's most conservative members disagree. They argue that the constitution dictates that the governor's deadline begins immediately after the Legislature adjourns.
Lawmakers went home for the year on March 29. Otter received the grocery tax repeal bill, one of the most contentious proposals passed by the Legislature this year, on March 31. Otter issued his veto on April 11 — 11 days after adjournment.
"In a very real sense, the people's respect for the integrity of the lawmaking process is at stake," wrote Bryan Smith, an Idaho Falls attorney representing the group of lawmakers, in his petition to the court. "The people's respect for the Idaho Constitution is at stake. And the people's respect for our judicial system is at stake."
The goal is to have the Supreme Court reverse its original 1978 ruling, which would then force Secretary of State Lawerence Denney to certify the grocery tax repeal bill into law — thereby voiding Otter's veto.
It's a longshot effort. Courts rarely overturn previous rulings, instead choosing to stand by the traditional principle that a court is obliged to follow its own prior decisions or the precedent of a superior court.
Otter, Denney and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's office have all stood by the validity of the Republican governor's veto, pointing to the court's original ruling as evidence they are following the law.
Nevertheless, the Legislature's most conservative members are pressing forward. They've attracted the support of House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane and House Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude and House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee Chairman Lynn Luker in the lawsuit.
Also named in the petition are Reps. Ron Nate of Rexburg and Heather Scott of Blanchard, two members who helped lead an organized movement to disrupt progress inside the Statehouse this year to protest leadership's decisions. Other legislators include Sen. Cliff Bayer of Meridian, who was the original sponsor of the grocery tax repeal bill this year.