Republican lawmakers submit two proposals to hold special session of Montana Legislature

Montana State Capitol
Posted at 5:58 PM, May 07, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-07 20:14:35-04

HELENA — Members of the Montana Legislature are set to consider two separate requests from Republican lawmakers to hold a special legislative session next month – one on judicial elections and one on immigration policy and tax revenue.

If ten lawmakers officially request a special session, the Montana Secretary of State’s Office must poll all lawmakers by mail. A special session will move forward if a majority of the Legislature – at least 76 lawmakers – votes in favor.

On Monday, a group of conservative lawmakers, led by Reps. Jane Gillette and Caleb Hinkle, R-Gallatin County, sent a letter, asking for a special session to consider a bill that would allow judicial candidates to run with political party labels – starting with the elections being held this year. In a news release, they said the state’s judicial election system “always benefits the Left.”

“Absent reforms, Montana’s current “non-partisan” judicial election system will deprive Montana voters of the most important information about the candidates running for these seats: their party affiliation,” they said in their letter. “As a result, Montana voters may unknowingly cast their ballots for judicial candidates who do not share the voters’ worldview.”

The other signers of the letter, all Republicans, included Reps. Lee Deming, Lyn Hellegaard, Braxton Mitchell, Greg Oblander, Bob Phalen and Jerry Schillinger, and Sens. John Fuller, Greg Hinkle, Brad Molnar and Jeremy Trebas.

In their news release, Gillette and Hinkle called a select committee on the judiciary created by Senate Republican leadership “meaningless virtue signaling” that judges would ignore.

“There is no point in the Legislature passing bills that reflect the conservative values shared by a majority of Montanans if those bills are struck down due to judicial lawlessness,” they said. “Legislators who are not serious about reforming judicial elections are not serious about any other conservative value they claim to hold. Should Governor Gianforte and the Legislature fail to bring transparency to this year’s judicial elections, they will own the next several years of liberal judiciary tyranny.”

Candidates are currently running for two open seats on the Montana Supreme Court, as well as many lower-court positions. Several bills that would have allowed judicial candidates to run with a party affiliation were proposed during the 2023 legislative session, but none were passed into law.

Then, on Tuesday, House Speaker Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, announced another special session request – this one to consider state-level action to “regulate illegal alien entry into Montana,” as well as distribution of revenue from marijuana taxes.

In the request, Regier said the federal government had exacerbated a crisis at the southern border and that “the crisis has been proliferated by now relocating illegal aliens to Montana.”

“State law must be defined to allow Montana officials the authority to regulate entry into our state,” the letter said. “Public safety demands that we act expeditiously on this issue. If we do not take swift action, we could see an increasing magnitude of illegal activity in Montana, specifically at our state’s northern border.”

Regier’s request was joined by other members of legislative leadership: House Majority Leader Rep. Sue Vinton, R-Lockwood, House Speaker Pro Tem Rep. Rhonda Knudsen, R-Culbertson, and Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Ken Bogner, R-Miles City. It comes after Gov. Greg Gianforte and Montana’s Republican members of Congress released statements last week, criticizing the Biden administration after reports of a group of migrants being flown to Kalispell.

A Daily Inter Lake article says the Flathead County sheriff described the migrants as a family of five who crossed the border in Texas, were flown to New York and then flew into Montana.

Regier’s request also said “marijuana tax revenue distributions need to be determined by the legislature,” after the lengthy court battle over Senate Bill 442 and a veto override poll Republican lawmakers considered unconstitutional.

Reps. Bob Keenan, Brandon Ler, Amy Regier and Tanner Smith and Sens. Carl Glimm, Mark Noland and Barry Usher also signed Regier’s request. Mitchell and Fuller signed both special session requests.

Each request calls for a special session to begin Monday, June 24, at 9 a.m.

A spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office says they have received both requests and are planning to mail out two separate ballots – though they are looking at sending them together.