Monday, August 15, 2011

Has the New Jersey Primary Already Moved to June 5 or Is It Now Locked in on February 7?

...or is it none of the above?

FHQ has been asked a few times -- and this is a question that has been making its way around the outer reaches of the internet as well -- to comment on the situation with the New Jersey presidential primary. Implicit in some of these questions is the notion that the bill won't be signed; keeping the Garden state primary in February and thus adding another layer to the current calendar chaos.

Well, let FHQ be the first to dispel that specific rumor. New Jersey's primary will only remain in February if Governor Chris Christie decides to veto A 3777, the bill that eliminated the separate presidential primary created in 2005. That legislation passed the New Jersey legislature on June 29, but has languished, seemingly in limbo in the time since.

What does that mean? It doesn't mean all that much on its face. First of all, Governor Christie has yet to act on the bill -- whether to sign it or veto it. But that raises the second more interesting/important point: Governor Christie has yet to act on the bill. Notice FHQ said that the only way the primary will stay in February is if Christie vetoes the primary bill. But the bill can still become law without the governor's signature. It can also be vetoed without gubernatorial action.

Let's look at the first scenario: A bill that has passed the New Jersey legislature can become law without the governor's signature if the period for consideration -- 45 days -- has passed.1 Forty-five days have passed since A 3777 successfully cleared both chambers of the legislature on June 29. In fact, 46 days have now passed (not counting today). Well, that's pretty cut and dry, right? Forty-five days have passed and the bill is law.

That is true except for a couple of matters. First of all, the 45 day countdown begins once the bill is presented to the governor. There is no formal process for -- at least no formal way of cataloging -- the transmission of legislation to the New Jersey governor like there is in other states (see the New York presidential primary bill). Take, for example, the FY2012 budget bill in New Jersey: S 4000. It passed on the same day as the presidential primary bill and was signed the next day without mention of transmission to the governor. In other words, we don't know when the 45 day clock began on A 3777. There is also the fact that the legislature is currently in recess. As such, Governor Christie has until the day the legislature reconvenes to consider the legislation and sign it if he is going to. The state Senate is scheduled to be back for one day on August 25, but FHQ is not clear on whether that will technically be enough -- with nothing simultaneously on the Assembly agenda -- to trigger an end to the period of gubernatorial consideration.

While 45 days have come and gone since the primary legislation passed, Governor Christie will technically have until the day the legislature reconvenes to sign it or not. That point will not occur until August 25 at the earliest.

And the veto? I've partially shot this scenario down already. A gubernatorial pocket veto of a bill is contingent upon a bill having passed the legislature within the final ten days of a two year legislative session. 2011 marks the end of a two year legislative session and while it may look as if the legislature -- currently in recess -- is adjourned, it is not.

With or without Governor Christie's signature, the expectation at FHQ is that the bill will become law -- especially considering there is no money allocated for a separate presidential primary election in the budget -- and the primary will move to June 5.

1 The pertinent sections of Article V, Section 1.14 from the New Jersey Constitution:
(c) The period allowed for the Governor's consideration of a passed bill shall be from the date of presentation until noon of the forty-fifth day next following or, if the house of origin be in temporary adjournment on that day, the first day subsequent upon which the house reconvenes; except that:

(1) if on the said forty-fifth day the Legislature is in adjournment sine die, any bill then pending the Governor's approval shall be returned, if he objects to it, at a special session held pursuant to subparagraph (d) of this paragraph;

(2) any bill passed between the forty-fifth day and the tenth day preceding the expiration of the second legislative year shall be returned by the Governor, if he objects to it, not later than noon of the day next preceding the expiration of the second legislative year;

(3) any bill passed within 10 days preceding the expiration of the second legislative year shall become law only if the Governor signs it prior to noon of the seventh day following such expiration, or the Governor returns it to the House of origin, with a statement of his objections, and two-thirds of all members of each House agree to pass the bill prior to such expiration.

(d) For the purpose of permitting the return of bills pursuant to this paragraph, a special session of the Legislature shall convene, without petition or call, for the sole purpose of acting upon bills returned by the Governor, on the forty-fifth day next following adjournment sine die of the regular session; or, if the second legislative year of a 2-year Legislature will expire before said forty-fifth day, then the day next preceding the expiration of the legislative year.

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