Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has vetoed two bills passed by the Legislature, including one he said would give the Child and Family Ombudsman too much control over the administration of the state's child welfare agency.

The Democrat also vetoed a bill that would prevent unions from collecting a "representation fee" from non-union members. He cited a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that disallows such fees.

"To sign it now would be to celebrate the decision, not to implement it," he wrote in his veto letter.

The Legislature created the ombudsman's office to give families a place to seek review of decisions made by Child and Family Services.

The bill would have required the ombudsman's office to report to judges when they're investigating the way a child abuse case was handled by the Division of Child and Family Services and to report to the governor, the attorney general and the state health department if the ombudsman documents repeated policy violations.

Supporters argued Child and Family Services sometimes did not follow policy and court decisions on child custody were made based on incomplete information.

Bullock argued the bill would allow the ombudsman's office to "exercise a significant new level of control over the administration of child welfare policy, practices and procedures" and that the bill did not include an appeals process or a way to assess the accuracy of the findings.

In his veto letter, Bullock wrote that the health department will continue to work with the ombudsman's office "in the collaborative, independent manner that Montana law requires."

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The governor has vetoed eight bills through Thursday.

Bullock also signed 30 bills on Thursday as he continues to act on nearly 300 bills sent to his desk after the Legislature adjourned, including:

  • An update to the stalking statute to include electronic surveillance or harassment as violations and to allow victims of child sexual abuse or sex trafficking to receive orders of protection. A first-offense stalking conviction would still bring a possible sentence of up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. The bill calls for up to a 5-year prison sentence and up to a $10,000 fine for a second or subsequent stalking offense; for violating an order of protection; if an offender uses, or threatens to use, force or a weapon against the victim or if the offender is at least five years older than a minor victim.
  • Another to allow resort communities with fewer than 5,500 residents to ask voters if they want to levy up to an additional 1% resort tax to pay for a specific infrastructure project. The additional tax must end after it raises enough money to fund the project.
  • A bill allowing schools to spend state and local funding on school safety and security, including hiring school resource officers or counselors, conducting safety and security training or to hire consultants to recommend any improvements.
  • Another to prevent prosecutors from filing drug or drug paraphernalia possession charges against pregnant women seeking help for substance abuse disorder.

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