Front facade of the Montana State Capitol building, showcasing its neoclassical architecture with ornate detailing, large pillars, and the word 'MONTANA' engraved above the entrance, set against a cloudy sky.
The Capitol building in Helena, photographed Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. Credit: Samuel Wilson / Bozeman Daily Chronicle

This story is excerpted from the MT Lowdown, a weekly newsletter digest containing original reporting and analysis published every Friday.

As we reported last week, nearly all the GOP-sponsored constitutional amendments working their way through the Legislature appear to be falling short of the near-unanimous Republican support they need to proceed to next year’s ballot. But since votes for constitutional amendment proposals are tallied differently than other bills — and the live amendment proposals have so far received votes in only one of Montana’s two legislative chambers — we thought it was worth explaining how we arrived at our count.

Amendments to Montana’s 1972 state Constitution can originate either in the Legislature or through a signature-gathering drive, with the former path requiring support from 100 of the Legislature’s 150 representatives and senators before proposals can advance to a statewide vote.

This year’s Republican supermajority comprises 68 representatives and 34 senators, or 102 combined votes, enough in theory for a united GOP to forward amendments to the ballot without any support from Democrats. That count, however, leaves Republicans with a mere two-vote margin, and as it turns out the party hasn’t voted in lockstep on the eight amendment proposals that advanced to votes on the House or Senate floor before an April 4 deadline.

Shown here are the votes the five House-side and three Senate-side amendment proposals received in floor votes in their initial chamber, along with projected outcomes if upcoming votes in the other chamber fall along party lines.

One amendment proposal, an effort by Sen. Kenneth Bogner, R-Miles City, to enshrine a mental health trust fund in the state Constitution, drew bipartisan support in the Senate and appears positioned to potentially clear the House. Otherwise, though, the Republican amendment wave appears likely to crest short of the 2024 ballot.

Another two amendments, one establishing a right to carry concealed firearms and another forbidding Montana’s redistricting commissions from considering political data as it redraws political maps, could come within one vote of passage (one of the Senate “yes” votes on the latter came from Democratic Sen. Edie McClafferty, who later said she mis-voted). A third amendment, establishing a constitutional right to hunt, trap and fish, could come within two votes of advancing.

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Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus's student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019.

Raised in Arizona, Arren is no stranger to the issues impacting Western states, having a keen interest in the politics of land, transportation and housing. Prior to moving to Montana, Arren was a statehouse reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times and covered agricultural and trade policy for Politico in Washington, D.C. In Montana, he has carved out a niche in shoe-leather heavy muckraking based on public documents and deep sourcing that keeps elected officials uncomfortable and the public better informed.