AZ Supreme Court: Legislature Wounds Governor's Constitutional Authority by Withholding Passed Bills

The state legislature inflicts "direct injury" to the governor's constitutional authority if it withholds passed bills from the governor, the Arizona Supreme Court says in an explanatory opinion released today.

If you'll recall, Governor Jan Brewer had to sue the legislature in June to force it to give her the budget it had passed. Brewer wanted to veto the budget bill because it didn't contain a way to get the sales tax she wanted. The Supreme Court agreed with Brewer, but didn't force lawmakers to turn over the bill to her right away. (The bill was transmitted to Brewer on July 1, and she did veto it).

As the Arizona Capitol Times reported last month, the legislature then asked the high court to reconsider its ruling.

In the opinion published on the court's Web site today, justices lay out their case for supporting the governor in the fight.  

Writes Justice Scott Bales,

Because the constitution directs that bills shall be presented to the Governor "when finally passed," we hold that the Legislature must present such bills to the Governor with no more delay than is reasonably necessary to complete any ministerial tasks and otherwise effect their orderly transmittal. This standard was not met here.

 

Part of the decision hinged on the definition of the word, "when:"

In ordinary usage, the phrase "when finally passed" would be understood to mean upon final passage and not at whatever later time the Legislature might deem appropriate. Dictionary definitions of "when," both contemporary and historical, signal a point in time related to the occurrence of a specific event.

Justices Andrew D. Hurwitz, , Michael D. Ryan and retiring Justice Ruth V. McGregor concurred with the opinion. Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch also concurred, but had her own take on what would be considered a reasonable amount of time to forward passed bills to the governor.

The opinion may seem like a moot point, because Brewer's already rejected the delayed bill at issue. But with no budget bill yet approved and Brewer poised to reject a bill similar to the one she's already nixed, the Supreme Court opinion may prevent history from repeating itself anytime soon.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.