NASHVILLE - Mistakes in Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's office caused 79 bills to become law without his signature and another 67 measures to be backdated to meet constitutional deadlines.
The governor must either sign or veto bills within 10 days, excluding Sundays, of receiving them from the Legislature, or they become law without his signature.
Haslam's top legal adviser, Herbert Slatery in a memo dated May 13 - nearly a month after the end of the legislative session - said "it would be misleading to the public to leave this clerical error uncorrected."
Slatery, who is among six finalists for an eight-year term as Tennessee attorney general, said that a review of internal documents and interviews confirmed that Haslam had approved the 67 bills within the 10 days, but that a staffer had incorrectly dated the signature on the day the measures were filed with the secretary of state.
Those bills were recalled from Secretary of State Tre Hargett to correct their signature dates, and an "addendum" on the effective date of the other 79 bills was added to clarify that Haslam's signature had come after their effective date.
Haslam spokesman David Smith said Tuesday that some of the confusion stemmed from Good Friday wrongly being counted as a state holiday.
"It was a technical mistake that didn't have an impact on the outcome of any legislation and was quickly corrected," Smith said in an email Tuesday.
Among the bills that mistakenly became law without Haslam's signature was a measure to punish pregnant women who abuse narcotics and harm their babies as a result. Haslam's office announced on April 29 - a day after the 10-day deadline - that he had signed the bill despite calls from health and women's organizations to veto the measure.
Tennessee became the first state to enact such a law, according to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
Haslam in his first term has vetoed only three bills and has been sparing in sending a message about bills by purposefully allowing them to become law without his signature.
For example, Haslam in 2012 cited constitutional concerns in his decisions not to sign a bill that sought to limit the percentage of foreign employees allowed to work at charter schools. Advocates had decried the measure as anti-Muslim, and the state attorney general's office later issued a legal opinion that the measure ran afoul of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.