Markowitz says Douglas may have vetoed bill he intended to become law

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(Host) Did Governor Jim Douglas inadvertently veto the hemp bill last week when he thought he was allowing the legislation to become law?

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz thinks the answer may be yes and she’s wants the Attorney General’s office to make a ruling.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports

(Kinzel) This is a story about how several people can read the same 20 words of the Vermont Constitution and come away with vastly different opinions about the meaning of those words.

Last week, Douglas decided that he didn’t have strong enough feelings about a bill that allows hemp to be grown in Vermont to either sign it or veto it.

So Douglas took no action, believing that this would allow the bill to become law without his signature.

While it’s clear that the Vermont Constitution gives a governor this option when lawmakers are in session, a serious legal question has been raised when a governor uses this approach after the Legislature has adjourned.

The Douglas administration argues that the governor does have this authority. But Secretary of State Deb Markowitz isn’t so sure.

(Markowitz) “It doesn’t seem like, to us, that the Constitution clearly gives the governor a right to allow a bill to become law without signature after final adjournment of the Legislature."

(Kinzel) Jason Gibbs is Douglas’ press secretary. He says the governor was well within his legal authority in this case.

(Gibbs) “The administration’s review of the available legal record and thorough research of Governor Dean’s record, where he employed the exact same option, indicates that this is an acceptable route for a bill to become law with gubernatorial signature."

(Kinzel) The secretary of state’s office is responsible for posting new laws. Markowitz doesn’t want to take this final step without a clear ruling from the Attorney General’s office.

(Markowitz) “Before we take that at its word and assign an act number and publish it as a law we need to have an opinion by the attorney general telling us that the attorney general’s office agrees that it is possible to take this kind of action."

(Kinzel) Press secretary Gibbs says the issue really doesn’t matter because federal drug laws prevent the Vermont hemp law from going into place.

(Gibbs) “At the end of the day, however, it could very well be much ado about nothing because this hemp bill is a do nothing bill. There’s a federal statute that pre-empts it."

(Kinzel) Secretary of State Markowitz says she’ll abide by the attorney general’s ruling on this legal question.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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