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Legislators in Montana override Gov. Gianforte’s veto of an appropriations bill related to a marijuana income measure



Montana – Gov. Greg Gianforte vetoed another bill this week, but lawmakers overrode it. This time, it was an appropriations package that included a provision to send marijuana tax money to a program for habitat development through another rejected bill that numerous organizations have sued over.

This week, representatives for the Montana Association of Counties, Wild Montana, and the Montana Wildlife Federation applauded lawmakers for overriding Gianforte’s veto of House Bill 868, the funding bill.

The three organizations are suing Gianforte and the secretary of state over the governor’s veto of Senate Bill 442, which, according to the Daily Montanan, modifies the structure lawmakers decided on in the 2021 session and redistributes marijuana tax revenue to Habitat Montana, the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program, and county road funding, among other things.

“This is an important step,” said MACO Executive Director Eric Bryson, “as the governor stated he vetoed SB 442 in part because there was no appropriation.” “When he vetoed HB 868, he then vetoed the appropriation. We appreciate the Legislature’s power to overrule those choices because they were made by the Governor against the will of the Legislature.

On May 2, just before the Senate voted to terminate the legislative session, Gianforte submitted a veto letter for SB 442, stating that the bill “glaringly omits an appropriation, failing to fund itself.”

“The bill does nothing without an appropriation,” he wrote.

But the sponsors of the measure and other supporters had contended on the day of the veto and in the weeks that followed that HB 868 contained wording that provided the cash for SB 442.

The bill did include an appropriation for SB 442 according to a fiscal analysis by the governor’s office of budget and program planning, but it also stated that the inclusion of that and coordinating language “appears to be outside the title of the bill… and therefore the amendments to SB 442 and the statutory appropriation appear to be invalid.”

Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta, the bill’s sponsor, and the organizations that worked on it during the session have argued for weeks that Gianforte’s veto of SB 442 was improper because it was not read aloud by the time the Senate voted to adjourn and that lawmakers should be able to try to override the veto through a poll, the procedure used for bills vetoed after the session has ended.

On June 7, MACO filed a lawsuit against Gianforte and Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, requesting that a judge make SB 442 law or allow the legislature to vote on a poll override because they believe Gianforte violated the law.

The Montana Wildlife Federation and Wild Montana filed a lawsuit against Gianforte and Jacobsen on the same day, requesting that a judge order Gianforte to return the veto to Jacobsen so she can mail out a veto override poll to lawmakers.

There is no established hearing date for either lawsuit. According to court documents, the plaintiff’s lawyers are requesting subpoenas for Gianforte and Jacobsen in both cases.

But the three groups expressed their satisfaction with the legislature’s decision to overturn HB 868. In order to override Gianforte’s veto, the override poll needed two-thirds of votes in both the House and the Senate, which it received with 72 votes in the former and 35 in the latter. Since the end of the session, lawmakers have overridden four vetoes.

The successful override, according to Noah Marion, director of state policy for Wild Montana, provided a “clear signal” that the legislature is still devoted to seeing SB 442 become law. Frank Szollosi, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation, praised the override. “This vote is a resounding testament that it’s time to stop bickering over the allocation of marijuana tax revenue and instead focus on the will of thousands of Montanans who have vocally championed the policy provisions of SB 442,” Szollosi said in a statement. “We look forward to a similar result when the secretary of state sends out the poll on SB 442.”


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