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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Republicans Consider Special Legislative Session Over Ballot Initiatives

The Montana Capitol
William Marcus
Montana Public Radio
Montana Capitol in Helena.

Republican state lawmakers are debating whether to call a special session of the Montana Legislature this July.

Republicans hold enough seats in the state Legislature to call a special session without any support from Democrats. But to do so, they need at least 76 of their 90 plus members in the Legislature to agree to it.

Party leaders reportedly got serious about considering calling a special session at the GOP state convention in Billings last week.

Influential Republican lawmakers like Llew Jones want a special session to address two ballot initiatives they say are flawed because they present one-sided arguments.

“In November the Montana voter will see two initiatives on the ballot that we feel, that many of us feel, do not reflect our stated values,” Jones says.

The first is I-186, which would require new hard-rock mines in Montana to have cleanup plans that won’t require perpetual treatment of polluted water from acid mine drainage or other contaminants.

Sen. Llew Jones (R) - SD9
Credit Montana Legislature
Sen. Llew Jones (R) SD9

Jones says that as the ballot initiative is currently written, it would kill jobs and prevent future mining in the state. The mining industry echoes those fears and opposes the initiative. Supporters say passing it will not kill mining in Montana.

“There is thought that a referendum should be added that allows the voter to weigh in on the potential that they want to have both clean water and a robust natural resources mining industry,” Jones says.

The other citizens ballot initiative some Republicans are worried about is  I-185. If approved by voters, I-185 would reauthorize Montana’s Medicaid expansion program past its 2019 expiration date and increase the state’s tobacco tax to fund it, along with other health programs.

Jones says some Republicans would like to see a referendum on the ballot next to I-185 that would require what he calls abled-bodied Medicaid recipients to work in exchange for the health benefits.

Referenda are different than most bills passed by the Legislature and would not need to be signed by the governor if approved by lawmakers.

Jones says his conversations among lawmakers are getting serious about calling a special session within the next month.  He said there is polling going on to see exactly how much support there is for calling one.

"It’s moving at least into a counting of heads stage.”

Jones says he’s talked to Democrats about the proposal of calling special session, but he declined to name specific lawmakers.

But there is significant opposition to calling  special session, which would be the second in eight months.

Republican House Speaker Austin Knudsen says he sent an email out to his caucus Monday night expressing opposition to coming back for a special session.

Knudsen declined to be interviewed on tape, but said at this point he didn’t have a good idea on the vote count in favor of calling lawmakers back to Helena this summer.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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