More Things
Rep. Greg Davids - Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune
by Steve Timmer
Jun 6, 2016, 2:30 PM

Rep. Davids weeps

In order to properly set up the MNGOP’s rending of garments and gnashing of teeth, it is necessary to understand the legislative flub behind the governor’s refusal to sign the House Republican caucus’s crown jewel, the tax bill. Because of a language mistake, the bill “accidently” expands a charitable gaming tax break to the tune of a hundred million dollars or so.

The Republican say, C’mon, Governor, it’s only a word. The bill said “or” and it should have said “and;” we know that, but nobody’s perfect. Rep. Davids will just send you a letter, and you’re good to go.

The governor replies, Not so fast. Are we state of laws, or not? (Well, he didn’t say the last part, but he might have.)

Here’s what almost certainly happens if the governor signs the bill as is.

Assume a gaming establishment that gets the tax break with “or” but not “and” claims the break and is sued by the state for the additional taxes. The state will lose.

Why?

The statute resulting from the bill will not be ambiguous. The taxpayer will say that the state cannot resort to extraneous materials to interpret the statute, including a letter from Rep. Greg Davids.

Even if a court did look at extraneous materials, it could not rely on a letter from Rep. Davids written after the session. First, it would be hearsay evidence. Even if Rep. Davids came to court, he couldn’t testify about what was intended. Legislative history is confined to material created before the bill was adopted.

The mischief that might result from a contrary rule would be substantial. Imagine a “swearing contest” in court between rival legislators as to what was meant in a statute.

Stick to your guns, Governor Dayton.

Update: And, of course, he did.

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