Montana governor signs bill adding restrictions to the initiative process

On May 14, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed House Bill 651 into law. Both chambers of the legislature passed the bill along party lines in the last week of April. All Republicans but one were in favor and all Democrats were opposed. 

House Bill 651 changes the laws governing the initiative process in Montana

• to require the employees of paid signature gatherers to register with the state and pay a fee;

• to require the relevant legislative committee or the legislative council to review and vote whether to support or oppose adding any proposed initiative to the ballot and to require the results of that vote to be published on the initiative petition during circulation;

• to require the attorney general to determine whether a proposed initiative would “cause significant material harm to one or more business interests in Montana” and to require a statement on petition sheets if the attorney general finds that it would; and

• to define appropriations, which the state constitution prohibits initiatives from making, to include directly or indirectly creating a financial obligation or expanding the eligibility for a government program.

Legislators in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah have passed restrictions on the initiative processes in their states in 2021.

As of May 14, 2021, Ballotpedia had tracked 197 legislative proposals concerning ballot initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recall in 39 states in 2021 legislative sessions. At least 21 had been approved, and 20 had been defeated or had died.

Notable topics among bills introduced in 2021 sessions include supermajority requirement increases, signature requirement and distribution requirement increases, single-subject rules, pay-per-signature bans, residency requirements and other circulator restrictions, fiscal impact statement and funding source requirements, and ballot measure campaign contribution restrictions.