Zero constitutional amendments pass out of the legislature
The Montana State Capitol in Helena on Wednesday, April 26, 2023. (Photo by Mike Clark for the Daily Montanan)
Your November ballot won’t be filled with ideas to amend the Montana Constitution after all — not even one.
This year, Montana Republicans held an historic supermajority at the legislature, and prior to the session, the list of proposed constitutional amendments kept growing.
Constitutional right to carry firearms. Constitutional sheriffs. Legislative approval of redistricting. Legislative selection of the Board of Regents. Limitation on the Montana Supreme Court.
The GOP held the winning hand this legislative session with 102 elected Republicans. Any proposals legislators approved with two-thirds of the Montana Legislature would have been forwarded to voters.
But the party includes hardline Republicans who view the 1972 Montana Constitution as a liberal document, moderates, and at least one legislator, Rep. Wayne Rusk, who voted against all constitutional amendment proposals.
Republicans had the required two-thirds needed to pass constitutional amendments, but an ingredient was missing for Rusk, a Corvallis Republican.
“The two thirds is meant to transcend partisanship with consensus,” Rusk said Wednesday after the session ended. “That’s the reason for the high bar. We had the numbers. We had the letter of the law met.
“But we didn’t in the end have the bipartisan support, which is the spirit of the law.”
Rusk said that lack of bipartisan support gave him pause because everyone lives under the same document. He said some members of his own party have tried to argue with him, but he said he holds a conservative constitutional perspective, regardless of where he is on the individual merits of the proposals.
(The one he personally liked was the amendment that would have had the governor appoint Supreme Court justices: “But it became clear that public opinion was altogether opposed to it, so in that instance, I adjusted my own inclination to those of the electorate.” On the other hand, if public opinion is split, he said it’s fair to try to shape it instead.)
All in all, legislators asked for 67 different drafts and introduced 19, but even a hail-Mary attempt to revive the constitutional carry amendment failed in the end.
At the close of the session, House Majority Leader Sue Vinton, R-Billings, said the caucus spent a great deal of time discussing the constitutional amendments.
“That is a very heavy lift for legislators,” Vinton said. “And while we did not get the votes that we needed to to put any of those on the ballot, there was great discussion, and generally, we’re in … much more agreement than disagreement on any of those issues.”
Republicans introduced all the proposed constitutional amendments, and even though they didn’t deliver on any, Vinton said they’re still leaving the Capitol having accomplished much.
“Across the board, whether it was healthcare policy, whether it was education, whether it was election reform, I think we call can agree that we have lots of really great legislation that we’ll take home to our constituents,” Vinton said.
Editor’s note: Daily Montanan Reporter Nicole Girten contributed to this report.
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