Montana legislators propose 22 constitutional amendments

2013-02-11T05:55:00Z 2013-02-11T06:15:39Z Montana legislators propose 22 constitutional amendmentsBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Missoulian State Bureau missoulian.com

HELENA - Montana legislators have proposed 22 different constitutional amendments so far this session, but they've already dropped a number of them.

Their ideas range from expanding term limits to limiting abortion and creating an oil and gas constitutional trust fund to changing the name of the office of state auditor.

“I think there’s more this session than usual,” said House Speaker Mark Blasdel, R-Somers. “But it’s a very, very difficult job to get them through the process.”

Doing so requires getting two thirds of the total members of the Legislature — at least 100 of the 150 lawmakers — to vote for the final version of the proposed amendment. It can be any combination of 100 representatives and 50 senators, and it does not require two-thirds majority votes in each chamber.

Any proposed constitutional amendments that make it through the Legislature will appear on the ballot in the next general election for voters to decide.

Two years ago, none of the 20 proposed amendments got the required votes to appear on the ballot.

Blasdel said it’s hard enough to get 51 votes in the House and 26 in the Senate to pass a regular bill, must less obtain the two-thirds majority for a proposed amendment.

“They've got to be something that makes sense to the public,” he said.

At this point, it appears the first proposed constitutional amendment most likely to make the ballot is House Bill 79, by Rep. Tom Berry, R-Roundup. It would change the name of the state auditor to the commissioner of securities and insurance to better reflect what the office does.

“The state auditor does not audit anything,” Berry said in the debate. The auditor is in charge of regulating securities and insurance in Montana.

It passed the House 87-7, so it needs only 13 votes in the Senate.

In 2006, voters rejected a similar proposal to call the auditor the state insurance commissioner.

Another bill to be debated soon is House Bill 277, by Rep. Bill McChesney, D-Miles City, to change the term limits provision for legislators. It would allow a legislator to serve a total of 16 years in any 24-year period, regardless of whether it was all in the House, all in the Senate or some combination.

At present, a legislator can serve eight years out of every 16 years in the House and then do the same in the Senate, or vice versa. Some legislators already put in 16 years between the two chambers, but are in one house for eight years.

“It’s been a brain drain on that all-important institutional knowledge,” McChesney said.

In 2004, Montanans rejected a constitutional amendment to extend legislative term limits to 12 years from the current eight, in one chamber.

Sen. Dave Wanzenried, D-Missoula, is trying again this year to amend the constitution to require that the both houses approve a revenue estimate to meet the constitutional requirement that the Legislature adopt a balanced budget. His bill is in the Senate Taxation Committee.

Although both chambers have adopted a revenue estimate in 2013, but that has not been the case in recent sessions.

The Joint Select Committee on Pensions will hear HB282, by Rep. Kirk Wagoner, R-Montana City. It would forbid the Legislature from increasing the two-year general fund budget beyond inflation unless public pension funds are funded on an actuarially sound basis.

Legislators have scrapped plans for three more already-introduced proposed, including one to prohibit the use of initiatives for hunting, fishing and trapping laws and one to reduce the number of seats in the House and Senate.

They have requested that 14 more proposed amendments be drafted, although at least of four of them have been dropped.

Among them are proposals by:

  • Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, to extend term limits for legislators.
  • Sen. Eric Moore, R-Miles City, to prevent enactment of any law abridging the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology or modern livestock or ranching practices.
  • Rep. Champ Edmunds, R-Missoula, to set aside money from the state general fund to pay for major projects such as constructing new buildings so the state wouldn't have to borrow money to finance them. It would require a simple majority to spend this money, not the two-thirds majority needed to issue bonds.
  • Rep. Tom Jacobson, D-Great Falls, to establish an oil and gas trust fund, similar to the state coal tax trust fund, by dedicating at least 30 percent of taxes from the extraction, severance or production of oil and gases to the fund. The rest would go to the state general fund. It would take a three-fourths vote of both houses to spend the principal of the trust fund, although the interest and income could be appropriated by a majority vote.
  • Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena, to set up an oil and gas trust fund, similar to what Jacobson wants to do, but providing that at least 25 percent of the oil and gas tax revenues go to the trust fund. Kaufmann wants to have an accompanying bill to repeal the state oil and gas tax holiday, using half of that revenue to go directly to help address the impacts of oil and gas development and the other half to go a statutory trust.
  • Rep. Douglas Coffin, D-Missoula, to put in the constitution a provision about higher education that’s similar to what the 1972 document says about quality K-12 education. His proposal would require the Legislature to provide for a high-quality, affordable, accessible and nationally competitive university system and financial aid system. It would require the Board of Regents to use comparisons to national standards to establish Montana standards and to assess how the Montana system compares to them.
  • Rep. Jerry O’Neill, R-Columbia Falls, to allow any constitutional amendment by the Legislature or the people to amend more than one constitutional provision at a time. O’Neill said the Montana Supreme Court in 1999 struck down Constitutional Initiative 75, on ground that it amended multiple provisions.
  • Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, who has two proposals aimed at restricting abortion. One would essentially ban abortion by defining “person” to include every human being at any stage of life, including conception. Another would specify there is no right to abortion or public funding of abortion.
  • She also has proposed amending the constitution to prohibit the taking of property for nonpayment of taxes.

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(5) Comments

  1. MontanaJim72
    Report Abuse
    MontanaJim72 - February 12, 2013 1:05 am
    It took longer than last year, but the tea party fed legislators are starting to surface. I will never understand how Jerry O'Neill was elected. His opponent was a common sense candidate who would have been able to work with both sides of the aisle. Of course, in the Flathead, all you have to do to get elected is have an "R" after your name. You will get elected no matter how extreme your views are.

  2. Aberdeen
    Report Abuse
    Aberdeen - February 11, 2013 3:01 pm
    Yeah Wendy - don't take someone's property for failing to pay taxes, but force the rest of us taxpayer's to pay the costs of unwanted pregnencies; good logical thinking.
  3. Toke
    Report Abuse
    Toke - February 11, 2013 10:38 am
    I guess pro's and con's for how long people should be allowed to sit in office. 8 years is not much by European standards and not at all in North Korea :0) But jokes a side, I have often found politicians with a few years in office to have a more pragmatic sense and to be more well rounded towards the responsibility of serving the people and not the party. I'm not sure if changing 8 for 12 or unlimited would be the way. Maybe one could get elected beyond the eight years by some special popular vote, so only the truly great or popular would get extra time in office. Or maybe you could allow for a form of apprenticeship in which a good old servant would spend a two year period passing on experience to the new person in office. This would keep momentum and knowledge available to serve people best.
  4. montanamuralist
    Report Abuse
    montanamuralist - February 11, 2013 6:28 am
    As demographics and attitudes continue to change, issues like Warburton raise, which are morality dictating wastes of paper and thinking, will fade in to the sunset. While I am pro life, I will support a woman in whatever choice she makes and do not feel it my place to dictate to her choices. On the term limit issue, I do agree with extending term limits as it is hard to find good people to serve and it seems we gain experienced people who see both sides of the issues and then kick them out.Does not make sense to me. If people want someone let them elect them no matter how long they have been in office...regardless of party or affiliation.
  5. Toke
    Report Abuse
    Toke - February 10, 2013 11:34 pm
    I love reading about Montana politics, because of the huge differences you encounter in both people and their opinions.
    Just take Wendy Warburton who believes it is worth wild to take away women rights to choose abortion. Yes, I'm pro-life but life to me is living matter with a mind of its own. Two or four cells is not life nor is a full grown brain dead person lying in a coma at the hospital. Neither have a mind of their own at this point.
    Let women decide and let the men support them in what ever way possible, so the best choice can be made every time.
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