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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Bullock Vetoes 10 More Bills, Including Water-Well Measure

Montana Capitol.
William Marcus
Montana Public Radio
Montana Capitol.

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed 10 more bills Thursday, including one that would have allowed residential subdivision developers to resume drilling multiple small water wells from the same water source without a permit.

That bill would have reversed a Montana Supreme Court ruling in a lawsuit over concerns that too many unregulated wells were being drilled in growing areas where water resources are limited, particularly in Gallatin and Ravalli counties.

Senior water-rights holders in those areas and in other closed basins have said subdivision developers were using a loophole in the state's exempt-well regulations to bypass the costly and lengthy permitting process. The Supreme Court effectively closed that loophole last year by ruling that two or more wells near each other do not have to be physically connected to be considered a combined appropriation of water that would require a permit.

The bill passed by the Legislature would have undermined that ruling and would have required that wells be physically connected to be considered a combined appropriation in need of a permit.

Bullock wrote in his veto message that the measure would perpetuate a system where many wells can be developed close together and pump substantial amounts of water outside of the permitting process, with other users of the water source powerless to protect their rights.

"I am concerned this legislation will fuel renewed litigation resulting in significant expense to all those involved," he wrote.

Other vetoes by Bullock include:

— A bill that would have barred cities and towns from fining people more than $100 for using their cellphones while driving. The bill also would have prohibited cellphone bans without an exception allowing cellphone use while parked. Bullock said the bill would have undermined ordinances that have already been adopted by communities that know best what rules they need.

— Three bills that would have changed the state's landlord-tenant laws. Bullock said the bills give landlords too much legal power and that lawmakers should conduct a thorough study of the state's landlord-tenant laws instead of the "haphazard approach" taken by the bills introduced this session.

— A bill that would have allowed hunters to donate funds that would be used to help pay for federal wildlife officials who kill wolves that attack livestock. Bullock said provisions in the bill would restrict the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' control over how its hunting license money is spent, which could risk $20 million in federal funds the state agency receives.

— A bill that would have barred cities, towns and regional water authority from using eminent domain to condemn water and water rights used primarily for agriculture. Bullock said the bill would have prioritized agricultural water rights over other water rights.

—A bill to prevent injured workers from receiving workers' compensation benefits if they made a false statement about a medical condition when they were hired. Bullock said the bill has privacy problems, could open workers to discrimination based on a disability and could lead to lawsuits.

© 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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