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Stories about Montana

Four states have ended their statewide mask requirements

New Jersey became the first state to implement a statewide mask order in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on April 10, 2020. Seven other states implemented mask orders later in April 2020 and, in total, 39 states have issued statewide mask requirements at some point during the pandemic.

In recent weeks, states have begun to repeal mask requirements or allow them to expire. Today, thirty-five states have statewide mask orders, including all 23 states with Democratic governors and 12 out of the 27 states with Republican governors.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) announced he is letting the state’s face-covering requirement expire on Feb. 12. Former Gov. Steve Bullock (D) issued the face-covering requirement on July 15, 2020. 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) lifted her state’s mask order on Feb. 7. Reynolds first issued the face-covering requirement on Nov. 17.

The Wisconsin State Assembly also voted 52-42 on a resolution to end the statewide mask mandate and coronavirus public health emergency on Feb. 4. In response, Gov. Tony Evers (D) immediately issued two new orders reestablishing the public health emergency and mask mandate. All Democrats and seven Republicans voted against the resolution. Republican legislative leadership is challenging the mandate in the state Supreme Court. The Wisconsin State Senate voted 18-13 to overturn Gov. Tony Evers’s (D) coronavirus emergency order on Jan. 26. 

Mississippi became the first state to lift a statewide mask requirement on Sept. 30, 2020, followed by North Dakota on Jan. 18, 2021. Montana is the fourth state to lift a statewide mask order. Iowa was the third state to lift a statewide public mask mandate. All four states that have lifted statewide face covering requirements have Republican governors.



Newly elected Montana state executives take office; state becomes Republican trifecta and triplex

On January 4, Governor Greg Gianforte (R), Lieutenant Governor Kristen Juras (R), Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen (R), and Attorney General Austin Knudsen (R) took oaths of office in Montana. Each won election in the general election on November 3, 2020.

Gianforte’s victory returned control of the governorship to Republicans (from previous Democratic governor Steve Bullock), who also held onto control of the secretary of state and attorney general offices. This gives Republicans both trifecta and triplex control in the state. A trifecta occurs when one party controls the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature. A triplex occurs when one party controls the offices of governor, secretary of state, and attorney general.

Across the country, there are currently 23 Republican trifectas and 15 Democratic trifectas. There are 20 Republican triplexes and 17 Democratic triplexes.

In 31 states, the same political party has both a trifecta and a triplex. Republicans hold such positions in 19 states, while Democrats hold it in 12. Of the 19 states without both a trifecta and a triplex of the same party, seven have only a trifecta, six have only a triplex, and six have neither.



Greg Gianforte elected governor of Montana

Greg Gianforte (R) defeated Mike Cooney (D), Robert Barb (G), and Lyman Bishop (L) to win election as governor of Montana. Gianforte is the first Republican elected to the office since 2000. Gianforte is the state’s current representative in the U.S. House, while Cooney is the current lieutenant governor. This is the first of the 11 governorships up this year to flip partisan control.

Montana was one of two states with a Democratic governor up for election this year in a state Donald Trump (R) won in 2016. In the other, North Carolina, incumbent Roy Cooper (D) won election to a second term. In 2016, Gianforte was the Republican gubernatorial nominee and lost to incumbent Steve Bullock (D) 50% to 46%.

Although final control of the state Senate and House is too early to call, they were not among the 24 battleground state legislative chambers Ballotpedia identified as having a chance of changing control this year. Should Republicans maintain their majorities in both chambers, Gianforte’s victory would give Republicans a trifecta in Montana for the first time since the 2004 election. Heading into the election, Montana had been under divided government longer than any other state.



Two Montana Supreme Court seats are up for nonpartisan election in November

The seats of Montana Supreme Court Justices Laurie McKinnon and Jim Shea will be up for a nonpartisan election in November. Jim Shea is running uncontested while McKinnon is running in a race with Mike Black.

McKinnon was last elected in 2012 while Shea was appointed in 2014 and elected in 2016. Two of Montana’s supreme court justices, including Shea, were appointed by Democratic governors, one was appointed by a Republican governor, and the rest were elected.

The seven justices on the Montana Supreme Court are elected in nonpartisan elections for eight-year terms. The candidates compete in primaries where the top two contestants advance to the general election. Whenever a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement from a list produced by the Montana Judicial Nominating Commission. The appointee, if confirmed by the Montana Senate, then remains in the seat until the next general election after their appointment. At this time, the appointed justice must run for re-election as the incumbent in a nonpartisan election to complete the remainder of the unexpired term.

Across all types of state supreme court elections, incumbent justices running for re-election won 93% of the time from 2008-2019. Montana has not seen an incumbent supreme court justice lose an election during this same time frame.

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Montana voters to decide five ballot measures related to firearms, marijuana, and the initiative process in November

Montana voters will decide five statewide ballot measures on November 3 concerning firearms, marijuana, and the ballot initiative process.

The two citizen initiatives on the ballot—CI-118 and I-190—were sponsored by New Approach Montana and are designed to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. CI-118 would amend the Montana Constitution to authorize the legislature or a citizen initiative to set a legal age for marijuana purchase, use, and possession. I-190 would enact a law that would legalize the possession and use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21, impose a 20% tax on marijuana sales, require the Department of Revenue to develop rules to regulate marijuana businesses, and allow for the resentencing or expungement of marijuana-related crimes.

The tax revenue generated would be allocated as follows:

  1. 49.5% to accounts for wildlife, parks, and recreation
  2. 10.5% to the state’s general fund
  3. 10% to an account for drug treatment
  4. 10% to local authorities to enforce the provisions of the law
  5. 10% to an account for Montana veterans
  6. 10% to an account to fund wage increases for healthcare workers

Pepper Peterson, a spokesperson for New Approach Montana, said, “Our research has always shown that a majority of Montanans support legalization, and now voters will have the opportunity to enact that policy, which will create jobs and generate new revenue for our state. It also means that law enforcement will stop wasting time and resources arresting adults for personal marijuana possession, and instead focus on real crime.”

According to the latest campaign finance data filed on September 30, New Approach Montana reported receiving $6.95 million in contributions, including $4.7 million from the North Fund (a D.C. based nonprofit) and $1.9 million from the national New Approach PAC.

There is one committee registered in opposition to the initiatives—Wrong for Montana. The campaign reported receiving over $78,000 in contributions. Steve Zabawa, the treasurer of the Wrong for Montana campaign, said, “All you have to do is go to Colorado for a test site. They’ve been up and running now for eight years, and if you look at the traffic accidents, you look at the emergency room, you look at the vagrants, you look at the activity in the black market as well as the regular market down there, it has just exploded.”

Montana voters will also vote on a legislative referral that would remove local governments’ authority to regulate the carrying of permitted concealed weapons. The ballot measure would continue to allow local governments to regulate unpermitted concealed weapons and unconcealed weapons in public occupied buildings.

LR-130 would also remove local governments’ power to regulate the possession of firearms by “convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents, illegal aliens, and minors.”

According to the text of the measure, it was designed “to secure the right to keep and bear arms and to prevent a patchwork of restrictions by local governments across the state.”

Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D) came out in opposition to the measure saying, “[LR-130] would end local decision-making about whether felons and the mentally ill can carry weapons in public. It would also end local decision-making about concealed weapons. Both changes are dramatic departures from Montana history. Neither is good policy. Montana law already contains strong protections that totally prohibit localities from restricting our basic right to keep and bear arms. […] I see no reason to reassign that power to decision-makers in Helena.”

Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, said, “Bullock is effectively arguing that a felon who would disregard committing another federal felony and disregard a state law prohibiting guns in schools would be deterred from bringing guns into schools if only local governments are allowed to enact an ordinance for a local misdemeanor prohibiting that conduct. Right, as if felons spend their time first reading and then complying with local ordinances.”

Ballotpedia identified one committee—NRA Big Sky Self-Defense Committee—in support of LR-130 that raised $16,000 from the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. There is one committee—No on LR-130—that reported nearly $1 million in contributions with its largest contribution from the Montana Federation for Public Employees ($803,369.27).

The legislature also referred two constitutional amendments to the ballot—C-46 and C-47. The measures would not alter currently enforced initiative signature distribution requirements but would amend constitutional language to match the signature distribution requirements currently enforced.

A distribution requirement is a statutory or constitutional mandate requiring that petitions for a ballot measure or candidate nomination must be signed by voters from different political subdivisions in order for the ballot measure or candidate to qualify for the ballot.

For an initiated constitutional amendment in Montana, proponents must collect signatures equal to 10 percent of the qualified electors in each of two-fifths (40) of the state’s 100 legislative districts. C-47 would amend the constitutional language to match these signature distribution requirements for initiative petitions.

For an initiated state statute or a veto referendum in Montana, sponsors must collect signatures equal to 5 percent of the qualified electors in each of one-third (34) of the state’s legislative districts. C-46 would amend the constitutional language to match these requirements.

The signature distribution requirements for initiated state statutes, veto referendums, and initiated constitutional amendments were changed in the state constitution to a county-based requirement with the passage of two voter-approved constitutional amendments, C-37 and C-38, in 2002. The 2002 county-based requirements were later ruled unconstitutional. Based on a ruling from Attorney General Mike McGrath, the distribution requirements in the constitution prior to 2002 were re-enforced. The invalidated language, however, remained in the state constitution.

The deadline to register to vote is October 26. Late registration, which is conducted at county election offices, begins on October 27 and continues through election day. Polls will be open from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm on election day. Mail-in ballots must be received by 8:00 pm on election day.

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Judge allows recall election to move forward in Stevensville, Montana

A Ravalli County District Court judge has ruled that there are sufficient grounds for a recall election to move forward against Stevensville Mayor Brandon Dewey. Judge Howard Recht’s ruling on August 14 said that Dewey “acted outside the law and without legal authority” when he signed a $79,800 contract with First Call Computer Solutions on behalf of the town. In June, Dewey filed a lawsuit with the district court, arguing that the recall shouldn’t have been approved for circulation. Dewey’s position was that the recall petitions misrepresented the situation surrounding the recall effort.

The recall effort is organized by resident Leanna Rodabaugh. Petitions accused Dewey of violating his oath of office because contracts of the size of the First Call contract would normally require approval from the town council. Rodabaugh said that the way the contract was signed bypassed the competitive bid and contract award process.

Petitions were approved for circulation on April 7, giving petitioners until July 6 to submit 251 valid signatures in order to put the recall election on the ballot. Petitions were accepted by Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg on May 22, and 254 signatures were found valid. The recall election is scheduled to take place by mail-in ballots on November 3, 2020.

Dewey responded to the recall effort and said, “If you strictly took state law and municipal ordinance, I think, yes, a case could be made that there was some impropriety. But that’s only true if you completely ignore the purchasing policy which the council adopted a number of years ago and has reviewed on a regular basis since delegating this authority to department heads and the mayor.”

Dewey sent a letter to Plettenberg after the signatures were verified. He wrote that the recall petition is “invalid and should be rejected on the basis of unsworn falsification and tampering with public records or information. These facts presented in the meeting by City Attorney Scott Owens conclude that there was no merit to the allegations brought forth, now presented in the recall petition, and that no illegal action had been taken by the mayor or administration. Ms. Rodabaugh was aware of these facts when submitting the petition and further omitted the authority given to the Mayor in the purchasing policy from the language in the petition she submitted. Therefore, she has knowingly submitted false allegations and information in the recall petition.”

Dewey provided a written statement that will be included on the recall election ballot:

“The Mayor did not violate Montana Law, Stevensville Code, or his oath in authorizing the purchase of IT services needed for the Town. The Town’s Attorney investigated and determined that all purchasing activities were done legally and compliant with laws.

“Montana law has a process for bidding when dealing with “other than professional, technical, engineering, or legal services.” This process does not apply to IT services. According to MCA 7 5-4301 contracts for professional, technical, engineering, or legal services are excluded from certain provisions.

“The Council adopted a Purchasing Policy in 2014 to delegate authority to departments and the Mayor for purchases in varying dollar amounts. Though this policy, the Council puts trust in the Mayor to spend within the budget without direct oversight.

“The purchasing policy states that for other professional services, including non-construction services totaling between $1,501 – $25,000 per agreement, purchases contained in the current fiscal year budget …, Departiment Supervisor’s need only get confirmation by the Mayor prior to purchasing.

“With Council’s approval in the 2019-2020 Budget, the services totaling less than $25,000 in FY2019-2020 was consented to by the Town Council. The Council had authorized several payments to the vendor after the Mayor authorized the purchase.”

In a town council meeting after the contract was signed, Stevensville Town Attorney Scott Owens stated that Dewey did nothing illegal because, while an agreement had been signed by the mayor for an amount of money that usually would require council approval, the money had been included in the budget that the council approved and was only being paid out incrementally. Owens said that Dewey’s actions were close to illegality but did not cross the line.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.



Montana voters to decide a pair of ballot initiatives that would legalize marijuana in November

Montana voters will decide an initiated constitutional amendment, CI-118, and an initiated state statute, I-190, that, together, would legalize marijuana in the state. CI-118 would amend the state constitution to allow for the legislature or a citizen initiative to establish minimum legal ages for the possession, use, and purchase of marijuana. I-190 would legalize the possession and use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21, impose a 20% tax on marijuana sales, require the Department of Revenue to develop rules to regulate marijuana businesses, and allow for the resentencing or expungement of marijuana-related crimes. CI-118 must be approved in order for I-190 to be fully enacted. The initiatives are sponsored by New Approach Montana.

On July 17, New Approach Montana reported that county clerks had accepted 52,315 signatures from the 80,000 raw signatures submitted for CI-118 and 35,458 signatures from the 52,000 signatures submitted for I-190. July 17 was the deadline for county clerks to submit the verified petitions to the secretary of state for final verification. On August 13, the secretary of state announced that the petitions contained a sufficient number of signatures to qualify for the ballot. As a constitutional amendment, CI-118 required 50,936 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. I-190 required 25,468 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

This will be the first time Montanans will vote on recreational marijuana. In 2004, Montana voters approved I-148, a medical marijuana initiative, with 61.81% of the vote. In 2011, the state legislature voted to enact regulations limiting the number of patients a provider could service. The law was repealed in 2016 with the approval of I-182.

Pepper Petersen, a spokesperson for New Approach Montana, said, “Our research has always shown that a majority of Montanans support legalization, and now voters will have the opportunity to enact that policy, which will create jobs and generate new revenue for our state. It also means that law enforcement will stop wasting time and resources arresting adults for personal marijuana possession, and instead focus on real crime.”

As of July 2020, New Approach Montana had raised $2.3 million in cash and in-kind contributions in support of both initiatives. The next campaign finance deadline is August 30, 2020. The North Fund was the largest contributor with $1.2 million in contributions. New Approach PAC contributed over $940,000.

Eleven states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the possession and use of recreational marijuana. Nine states legalized marijuana through the ballot initiative process. Vermont and Illinois legalized marijuana through the legislative process.

Recreational marijuana measures are also certified for November 2020 ballots in Arizona, New Jersey, and South Dakota. South Dakota and Mississippi voters will also decide medical marijuana measures. Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws submitted signatures for a 2020 medical marijuana initiative.

CI-118 and I-190 will be the only initiatives on the Montana ballot. Three other legislatively referred ballot measures will also appear on the ballot. Montana LR-130 would remove local governments’ power to regulate the carrying of permitted concealed weapons. It would continue to allow local governments to regulate unpermitted concealed weapons and unconcealed weapons in public occupied buildings. Montana C-46 and C-47 would amend constitutional language regarding initiative signature distribution requirements to match current practices.

From 1996 through 2018, an average of between four and five measures appeared on the ballot during even-numbered years in Montana, 62% of which were approved.

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Montana governor lawsuit challenges U.S. Bureau of Land Management director nomination

On July 20, Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D) filed a lawsuit aimed at prohibiting acting director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) William Perry Pendley from exercising the director powers of the agency. The lawsuit argues that Pendley, who President Trump officially nominated to become director of BLM on June 30, 2020, serves as director in violation of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA) and the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
According to the lawsuit, Pendley’s exercise of the director’s powers defies the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which requires U.S. Senate confirmation of presidential appointments. The lawsuit further argues, however, that Pendley continuing to serve as acting director of the agency after his nomination to become permanent director violates the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA). Bullock argues that, “The Federal Vacancies Reform Act bars Presidents from circumventing the Constitution by putting people in charge of federal agencies before they are Senate-confirmed. But that is precisely what has happened here. Pendley’s tenure—and the actions the Bureau has taken, and continues to take during that tenure—violate the law.”
Bullock asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana to issue an injunction to block agency actions taken under Pendley. Conner Swanson, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of the Interior told _Bloomberg Law_, “This is a frivolous and politically motivated claim that has no legal standing.” Swanson said that Secretary of the Interior David Benhardt issued an order delegating the power to exercise the authority of BLM director to Pendley.


Montana county clerks verify that New Approach Montana has enough signatures to qualify marijuana measures for the ballot

On July 17, New Approach Montana reported that county clerks had accepted 52,315 signatures from the 80,000 raw signatures submitted for its constitutional amendment initiative (CI-118) and 35,458 signatures from the 52,000 signatures submitted for its initiated state statute (I-190). A total of 50,936 signatures and 25,468 signatures, respectively, were required to qualify for the ballot.
Together, the initiatives would legalize and tax marijuana. New Approach’s CI-118 would amend the state constitution to allow for the legislature or a citizen initiative to establish minimum legal ages for the possession, use, and purchase of marijuana. I-190 would legalize marijuana for individuals over the age of 21 and tax the sale of non-medical marijuana at a rate of 20 percent. CI-118 must be approved in order for I-190 to be enacted.
Pepper Petersen, a spokesperson for New Approach Montana, said, “Every single legislative district submitted signatures for this drive, all 56 counties, every little small town, people contributed signatures to this in Montana. We think that shows a huge level of support out here, and we’re excited going forward.”
In April, the campaign filed a lawsuit against the state arguing that it had violated the right to petition the government by prohibiting electronic signature gathering during the coronavirus pandemic. On April 30, Missoula District Judge John Larson ruled against the petitioners arguing that the state’s “compelling interest in maintaining the integrity and security of its election process outweighs any burden on [the] Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”
On May 7, 2020, the Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton (R) issued a declaratory order enabling campaigns to circulate petitions online so that supporters could print, sign, and return them to a county elections office without notarization. Prior to the order, supporters had to take the signed petition to a notary for verification. On the same day, New Approach Montana announced that it would be carrying out a traditional signature gathering campaign with added precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic, such as having circulators wear masks and using single-use pens.
In Montana, the deadline to gather signatures and submit them to county clerks for verification was June 19. The county election authorities had until July 17 to submit accepted signatures to the Montana Secretary of State’s office for a final tabulation before the ballot measures are certified.
New Approach Montana was the only campaign to submit a sufficient number of signatures and meet the state’s distribution requirement. The distribution requirement for initiated state statutes is 5 percent of qualified voters in one-third (34) of the 100 state legislative districts. For initiated constitutional amendments, the requirement is 10 percent of qualified voters in two-fifths (40) of the 100 state legislative districts.
Montana Cares, the sponsor of I-187, the Renewable Energy Initiative, also filed signatures with county clerks. The campaign reported on July 17 that it did not meet the signature and distribution requirements. The initiative would have required investor-owned electric utilities to acquire 80% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2035. The campaign filed two similar initiatives in 2016 and 2018 that also did not make the ballot.
Fourteen petitions targeting the 2020 ballot were filed with the Montana Secretary of State, and five were cleared for signature gathering.
The state legislature referred one state statute and two constitutional amendments to the November ballot. LR-130, would remove local governments’ power to regulate the carrying of permitted concealed weapons. The ballot measure would continue to allow local governments to regulate unpermitted concealed weapons and unconcealed weapons in public occupied buildings. C-46 and C-47 would amend constitutional language regarding initiative signature distribution requirements to match existing practices.
From 1996 through 2018, an average of between four and five measures appeared on the ballot during even-numbered years in Montana, 62% of which were approved.
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Montana mayor sues to stop recall election

In Montana, Stevensville Mayor Brandon Dewey has filed a lawsuit in Ravalli County District Court seeking to stop the recall election against him. The lawsuit argues that the recall petitions did not include important context about the allegations against him and that the recall therefore shouldn’t have been approved for circulation. The recall election is scheduled to take place via mail-in ballots on August 4, 2020.
The recall effort is being organized by resident Leanna Rodabaugh in response to Dewey signing a $79,800 contract with First Call Computer Solutions on behalf of the town. Petitions accused Dewey of violating his oath of office because contracts of that size would normally require approval from the town council. Rodabaugh said that the way the contract was signed bypassed the competitive bid and contract award process.
Dewey responded to the recall effort and said, “If you strictly took state law and municipal ordinance, I think, yes, a case could be made that there was some impropriety. But that’s only true if you completely ignore the purchasing policy which the council adopted a number of years ago and has reviewed on a regular basis since delegating this authority to department heads and the mayor.”
Petitions were approved for circulation on April 7, giving petitioners until July 6 to submit 251 valid signatures in order to put the recall election on the ballot. Petitions were accepted by Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg on May 22, and 254 signatures were found valid.
Dewey sent a letter to Plettenberg after the signatures were verified. He wrote that the recall petition is “invalid and should be rejected on the basis of unsworn falsification and tampering with public records or information. These facts presented in the meeting by City Attorney Scott Owens conclude that there was no merit to the allegations brought forth, now presented in the recall petition, and that no illegal action had been taken by the mayor or administration. Ms. Rodabaugh was aware of these facts when submitting the petition and further omitted the authority given to the Mayor in the purchasing policy from the language in the petition she submitted. Therefore, she has knowingly submitted false allegations and information in the recall petition.”
In a town council meeting after the contract was signed, Stevensville Town Attorney Scott Owens stated that Dewey did not commit an illegal act because, while an agreement had been signed by the mayor for an amount of money that usually would require council approval, the money had been included in the budget that the council approved and was only being paid out incrementally. Owens said that Dewey’s actions were close to illegality but did not cross the line.
In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.