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New Laws Affecting Montana's Public Universities Prompt Lawsuits

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In separate actions, Montana’s public higher education officials and the state’s largest union for public employees are suing the state over laws that change rules and regulations for college campuses.

The Montana Federation of Public Employees (MFPE) filed suit on Thursday, alleging four new laws violate the state’s Constitution. The state Board of Regents filed a separate suit the same day. The Regents’ suit focuses on one of the laws the MFPE is suing over — the one allowing concealed carry of firearms on college campuses.

As part of its suit, the Board of Regents is asking the court to delay implementation of the new law, which is supposed to go into effect June 1. 

Karen Ogden, spokesperson for the Montana University System, declined to comment on the union’s separate suit. 

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte’s spokesperson Brooke Stroyke said in a statement that the administration will “staunchly defend the constitutionality of these laws.”

In addition to campus concealed carry, the public employee union is suing over new laws dealing with free speech on campuses, regulation of student political organizations and a ban on transgender women and girls competing in interscholastic sports.

House Majority Leader Sue Vinton says the policies are constitutional and that the Republican-majority Legislature passed them with voters in mind.

“We were sent to Helena with a mandate — an overwhelming mandate — to represent our constituents in a conservative manner,” Vinton says.

Amanda Curtis, president of MFPE, says the laws are “blatantly irresponsible and run afoul of the Montana Constitution which has served our state well since 1972.”

Both suits were filed directly with the Montana Supreme Court. 

Editor’s note: Some Montana Public Radio employees are members of MFPE.

This story was updated Friday, May 21 at 5 p.m.

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