HELENA — The Montana House voted 89-11 Monday to override Gov. Greg Gianforte’s veto of a bill giving the Legislature more power to second-guess administrative rules issued by state agencies, following a similarly unanimous vote by the Montana Senate last week.

The override vote, which required two-third majorities in each chamber to succeed, is apparently the first time since 2003 that a Montana governor’s veto has been successfully challenged by the Legislature.

The bill in question, Senate Bill 227, makes it easier for the Republican-controlled Legislature to repeal administrative rules created by state agencies. Under current law, bills intended to repeal those rules can be vetoed by the governor. SB 227, sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, would let lawmakers instead repeal administrative rules with legislative resolutions, which aren’t subject to the governor’s veto power.

Administrative rules are routinely enacted as state agencies flesh out the details of laws and state programs approved by the Legislature, which meets every other year. Supporters of SB 227, which passed both legislative chambers by comfortable margins, say it gives the Legislature a tool to ensure that agencies are enacting laws in ways that reflect lawmakers’ intent.

The governor, a Republican, vetoed the bill April 8, arguing that it intrudes into his office’s authority over state agencies.

“SB 227 is an unlawful violation of the separations of powers,” Gianforte wrote. “It attempts to remove from the governor, the chief executive officer of the state with the final authority over the rulemaking activities of the executive branch, the power to approve or disapprove the legislature’s review of the administrative rules implemented by the executive branch.”

The veto was Gianforte’s first since taking office in January. His office didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment Monday.

Legislative Services Director Sue Fox said Monday that her records indicate the last time lawmakers pre-empted a Montana governor’s veto was likely 2003. That year, the Republican-controlled House and Senate voted to override Republican Gov. Judy Martz’s veto of that session’s Senate Bill 46, which eliminated a requirement that counties put large public works projects out for competitive bids.Lawmakers have made a number of unsuccessful veto override attempts in more recent sessions, which have largely involved Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatures. In 2019, for example, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed 36 bills. Lawmakers attempted unsuccessfully to override eight of those vetoes via mail polls after the legislative session had ended.

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Eric Dietrich is a journalist and data designer and the founder of the Long Streets economic reporting project. His reporting focuses broadly on Montana’s governance and economic opportunity, with particular focus on the state budget and tax policy. He also contributes data reporting across the MTFP newsroom. Before joining the MTFP staff in 2019, he worked for the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network and also earned an engineering degree from Montana State University. Contact Eric at edietrich@montanafreepress.org, 406-465-3386 ext. 2, and follow him on Twitter.