Republican MT lawmakers considering special session to undercut ballot measures

Posted at 9:34 AM, Jun 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-27 11:34:06-04

Republican lawmakers in Montana are discussing whether to call a special session of the Legislature next month, to consider proposals that could compete with or undercut this fall two ballot measures, on mining and tobacco taxes.

Sources told MTN News that Republicans could place on the November ballot a pair of competing referendum for voters to consider, instead of initiatives 185 and 186.

I-185 would raise tobacco taxes by about $50 million a year and extend Medicaid expansion, a state-and-federally funded program that pays medical bills for 96,000 low-income Montanans.

I-186 would require new hard-rock mines in Montana to have cleanup plans that don’t require perpetual treatment of polluted water or runoff.

Neither measure has been certified for the ballot, but supporters of each initiative turned in more than 40,000 signatures in the past week – probably enough to qualify both initiatives, once the signatures are verified as those of registered voters.

Republicans control majorities in both houses of the Legislature, with 91 total seats out of 150. They can call the Legislature into special session, with a simple majority vote of the 150 lawmakers.

However, such calls are rare – and it’s not clear whether all Republican legislative leaders are on board.

MTN has learned that a possible proposal to compete with I-185 would be a referendum with a lower tobacco tax paired with an extension of the Medicaid program, but with tighter restrictions on who’s eligible for Medicaid benefits, such as work requirements and an assets test.

Both the tobacco industry and the mining industry have been gearing up to fight the respective initiatives, I-185 and I-186.

Gov. Steve Bullock supports I-185 and likely would oppose any attempt to undercut it.

However, if lawmakers pass a competing referendum and place it on the November ballot, Bullock cannot veto the measure.