Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Here we are, at the end of another year, yet again grappling with one of the greatest ambiguities in Michigan legislative procedure: How long does the Governor actually have to sign or veto an enrolled bill?
By now, you probably know that Senate Bill 13, as amended by House Substitute H-2, would eliminate straight-party voting in Michigan. Senate Bill 13, as amended, finally passed the Michigan Senate and Michigan House of Representatives on December 16, 2015, and was ordered enrolled that same evening.
The Michigan Constitution provides that the Governor shall have 14 days, measured in hours and minutes, to sign or veto an enrolled bill. Const 1963, art 4, sec 33. The Michigan Constitution further provides that if the Governor fails to sign the enrolled bill during that 14-day period, and if the Legislature has already adjourned sine die for the year (sine die adjournment is the final, end-of-session adjournment for the session year), the bill does not become law. Const 1963, art 4, sec 33.
At first blush, this sounds like wonderful news! As noted, Senate Bill 13, as amended, was finally passed and ordered enrolled on December 16th. In other words, today, December 30, 2015, is the 14th day—measured in hours and minutes—following the Legislature’s final passage and enrollment of the bill. In addition, the Michigan Legislature adjourned sine die on Friday, December 18th—squarely within the 14-day period following passage and enrollment. This means that Senate Bill 13 will die and will not become law unless Governor Snyder signs it by the end of the day today, right???
Umm. Not so fast.
The 14-day period prescribed by the Michigan Constitution does not begin running until the enrolled bill is “presented to the governor.” Const 1963, art 4, sec 33. Confusingly, however, the Michigan Constitution does not specify exactly when an enrolled bill must be presented to the Governor. Senate Bill 13, for example, was not presented to the Governor until December 22, 2015—a full six days after its final passage and enrollment. In effect, this means that Governor Snyder will have until January 5, 2016, rather than December 30, 2015, to sign or veto the bill.
Presentation of enrolled bills to the Governor days or even weeks after final passage is a very common practice in Michigan. The practice is not, however, consistent with the spirit of our state constitution.
The drafters of the Michigan Constitution provided that the Governor would only have “14 days measured in hours and minutes from the time of presentation” to approve or reject an enrolled bill. It naturally follows that the drafters intended all enrolled bills to be presented to the Governor in a timely fashion. After all, why would the drafters have limited the Governor’s consideration of a bill to “14 days measured in hours and minutes from the time of presentation” if presentation could occur weeks or even months after the bill was passed? This would not have made any sense to the drafters or to the People of Michigan who ultimately adopted the constitutional language.
Logically, to give full effect to the importance of the 14-day window, it would seem that a bill should be presented to the Governor immediately or almost immediately after it is passed and ordered enrolled. Indeed, the majority rule in the United States is that, in the absence of a state constitutional provision to the contrary, enrolled bills must be presented to the governor “forthwith.” See, e.g., Opinion of the Justices, 106 N.H. 402, 405; 213 A.2d 415 (1965). Similarly, Michigan’s Attorney General has suggested, albeit in a different context, that enrolled bills should be “presented within a reasonable time following passage by the Legislature.” OAG 1981-1982, No. 6114.
What, then, is a “reasonable time” for presentation of an enrolled bill to the Governor? Given the narrow 14-day window afforded by the Michigan Constitution for gubernatorial consideration of enrolled bills, it strikes me that the drafters intended for the Legislature to present bills to the Governor no more than 14 days after their passage and enrollment. It would be illogical to conclude that the Legislature could present a bill to the Governor weeks or even months after passage and enrollment, but that the Governor would still have only 14 days from the time of presentation to approve or reject it. What would be the purpose of the constitutional 14-day window if the Legislature could present an enrolled bill at any time? The 14-day provision would no longer have the purpose of limitation or timeliness, and would merely exist as a meaningless constitutional appendage. It is fundamental that no provision of the state constitution may be interpreted in such a way as to render it nugatory or superfluous.
Because the 14-day period prescribed in the Michigan Constitution sets the outer limit for gubernatorial consideration of enrolled bills, the same measure of time—14 days—should set the outer limit for legislative presentation of enrolled bills to the Governor. Any presentation period longer than 14 days would be unreasonable in light of the brief, 14-day window that constitutionally limits the Governor’s post-presentation powers.
In this case, the six-day delay between the passage and enrollment of Senate Bill 13 on December 16th, and its presentation to the Governor on December 22nd, is probably reasonable. Accordingly, the Governor has until January 5, 2016—14 days after presentation—to approve or reject the bill. In the meantime, we can only speculate as to what he might do.