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Overrides of mail-in vetoes new for Montana legislators



Billings, Montana – Legislators claim to have witnessed the overriding of a governor’s veto in the past, but for some, this is the first time they have witnessed it done via mail.

On Tuesday, when House Bill 693 became law, they decided to override it.

The bill, which deals with the public’s right to know, initially passed with a 94–4 vote in favor and a 48–2 vote against.

To override Republican Governor Greg Gianforte’s veto, two-thirds of both houses of Congress are required.

In the House, the vote passed by two votes (68-17), while in the Senate, it passed by three votes (37-9).

“That’s a 30 percent shift, almost all of it some of my fellow Republicans,” said Sen. Brad Molnar, R-Laurel.

That change, according to Molnar, has frustrated him, in part because of the duty to preserve the Montana Constitution.

In the Governor’s veto letter, he stated ”House Bill 693 encourages trial lawyers with deep pockets to abuse the Right To Know, giving them an unfair advantage.”

“Senate Bill 693 was a very simple bill,” Molnar said. “It supported Article 2, Section 9 of the Montana Constitution, which says that you the people have a right to look at any public documents held by government.”

Sen. John Esp, R-Big Timber, cast a yes vote on the original measure but abstained on the override.

He claims that had he received a letter from the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Mercer, R-Billings, he would have cast a vote for the override.

“Well, I didn’t want the public’s right to know to outweigh the individual’s right to privacy, which is what I understood was part of the angst that the governor’s staff had that private medical records and those kinds of things,” Esp said. “The representative assures shares me in his letter that that’s not the case.”

Republicans only voted against, and every legislator from the Democratic Party voted in favor of the override.

Sen. Dennis Lenz, a Republican from Billings, intended to cast a vote for an override, but his ballot was late.

He is serving his first term as a senator after serving four terms, beginning in 2013, in the House.

“We’ve overturned in session,” Lenz said about a veto. “I’ve never seen one being overriden by mail. It’s not typical.”

Molnar is nearing the end of his first term as a senator after serving four terms in the House in the 1990s.

He adds that this is the first mail-in veto override he has witnessed.

“It’s historic to see this amount of shift based on partisanship,” Molnar said. “It’s historic to see the constitution so plainly ignored. It’s historic to see the governor get overridden. The whole thing is our experiment in democracy is ongoing and it’s going in the right direction.”


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