Montana lawmakers may push back referendum deadlines
By Kyle Maichle
Under current rules, the deadline to introduce bills along with ballot measures is January 17, 2011. The Senate Rules Committee, by a 12-4 vote on January 4, 2011, approved changes that would give lawmakers until mid-March to draft ballot measures. The measure passed with the support of all the Republicans on the committee along with two Democrats. Montana Senate President Jim Peterson supported the rules change saying it would allow lawmakers to reintroduce vetoed legislation as possible ballot measures.
However, Senate Minority Whip Kim Gillan opposed the rules change. Gillan opposed the rules change over concerns of lawmakers not having enough time to vet potential measures. Niki Zupanic, Public Policy Director for ACLU-Montana, expressed concern with the rules change. Zupanic said: "Under the new rules they have two extra months into the process to introduce these referendums...By moving back the introduction deadline, you have six weeks before the end of the session, and brand new bills popping up with little opportunity for the public to weigh in."
Some political observers view the rules change as part of the GOP's strategy to reclaim Montana in 2012. State Senator Dave Lewis told a Montana newspaper in December of 2010 that the GOP plans to bypass Governor Brian Schweitzer's veto pen during the 2011-2012 session. Lewis said that would be accomplished putting controversial items on future ballots.