HELENA - Do a majority of Montanans want to amend the state Constitution to ban abortion? Impose a sales tax? Vote by mail? Or have the Legislature attempt to "nullify" federal laws that they disagree with?
No, no, yes and maybe, according to a Lee Newspapers poll, which also reveals that Montanans aren't necessarily opposed to having the Legislature meet in annual sessions, either.
The poll, conducted early last week for Lee Newspapers by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of Washington, D.C., surveyed 625 registered voters about various issues before the current Montana Legislature. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
In some cases, a majority of Montanans opposed the direction taken by the Republican majority at the Legislature, while in others, they agreed or nearly agreed.
Here's a closer look at the polling results on five major issues, one of which has been resolved, while the others remain in play before the 2011 Legislature:
Abortion: When asked if they would support a constitutional amendment to ban abortion by saying life begins at conception by defining "person" as a member of the human species at any stage of development, 56 percent of those surveyed said they would not, and 35 percent supported it. Nine percent were undecided.
The amendment is contained in House Bill 490, which needs 100 total votes from the Legislature to make it on the 2012 ballot.
On Monday, 62 House members endorsed HB490, which is sponsored by Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre. After a final vote Tuesday, HB490 will proceed to the Senate, where it's unlikely to get enough votes to make it on the 2012 ballot.
The Legislature also is considering other proposals that would place more restrictions on abortion in Montana.
The poll found relatively strong opposition to the anti-abortion amendment among men, woman, political independents and Democrats. Only Republicans who were polled were in favor, by 57 percent to 34 percent.
Vote by mail: A solid majority of those surveyed - 57 percent - said they would support changing most Montana elections to a vote-by-mail system, while 37 percent were opposed. Just 7 percent were undecided.
In late January, the Republican-controlled Montana House voted down a vote-by-mail bill on a 57-42 vote, a day after having given the bill preliminary approval.
Women and Democrats in the poll strongly supported a vote-by-mail system; men and independents were supportive, by lesser margins; and Republicans were evenly split, with 45 percent against and 43 percent for it.
Nullification: When asked if states should have the right to "nullify and ignore" federal laws that they don't support, 43 percent of those polled said yes, 42 percent said no and 15 percent said they were unsure.
Democrats who were polled came out strongly against nullification, while Republicans were strongly for it. Among other sub-groups in the poll, men and political independents tended to be more supportive, while women opposed it.
A dozen bills to nullify various federal laws have been introduced at the Legislature, including the Endangered Species Act, the federal health care law and food safety laws. Several of these bills have been killed, while others remain alive.
Sales tax: Montanans remain strongly against a sales tax, according to the poll - even when it replaces the state income tax.
Sixty-four percent of those polled said they oppose replacing the state income tax with a sales tax, while only 25 percent support it. Eleven percent were undecided. The opposition to a sales tax cuts across all groups within the poll: men, women, Democrats, Republicans and independents.
House Bill 595, sponsored by House Majority Leader Tom McGillvray, R-Billings, would repeal the state income tax and direct an interim legislative committee to design a replacement sales tax. The bill is scheduled for its first hearing on Wednesday.
Annual sessions: Montana's Legislature currently meets 90 days every two years. When asked if they would support a constitutional amendment for the Legislature to meet for no more than 80 days, but have those days split into annual sessions, 51 percent of those polled said yes, and 37 percent said no. Twelve percent were undecided.
The responses from men, women and independents were almost exactly the same as the overall poll results; Republicans were most in favor, with 62 percent for annual sessions; Democrats were most leery of the idea, with only 40 percent for and 42 percent against.
Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, is sponsoring Senate Bill 261, which would put the issue to voters in 2012 - if it gets at least 100 votes from the entire Legislature.
The measure got 31 votes in the Senate two weeks ago, and is now before the House, where it would need 69 votes. A hearing on the bill is Tuesday in the House Taxation Committee.
Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.