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.
A Helena district court judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Legislature’s censure of Democratic Missoula Rep. Zooey Zephyr during the final days of the 2023 legislative session.
Broadwater County Attorney Cory Swanson has announced his candidacy for a seat on the Montana Supreme Court, setting up a contest between Swanson and former federal magistrate court judge Jerry Lynch for the court’s chief justiceship.
The Lake County Commission sent a letter to Gov. Greg Gianforte informing him that the local sheriff’s office and criminal justice system would no longer handle felony law enforcement on the reservation. The agreement between the state and tribe is one-of-a-kind in Montana.