HELENA — Gov. Greg Gianforte is asking for changes in a bill that would provide compensation for people imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit.
House Bill 92, sponsored by Rep. Kathy Kelker, D-Billings, would pay a pre-determined amount of money to people who were wrongly imprisoned – $60,000 for each year of imprisonment and $25,000 for each year they were on state supervision outside of prison. It passed both the House and Senate with wide support.
On Wednesday, Gianforte issued an amendatory veto of HB 92. He said he supported some form of compensation for the wrongly convicted, but that the bill could be improved.
Gianforte asked the Legislature to add a provision saying a person would have to waive any other claims against the state or local government in order to claim the compensation – meaning they couldn’t also file a lawsuit.
“I support the twofold purpose of HB 92,” Gianforte said in his letter announcing the veto. “First, we must resolve the harm done to persons who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. Second, we must protect taxpayers from paying millions of dollars in damages. Protecting taxpayers, however, is not achieved if a claimant can obtain damages and also file a lawsuit against the state, its political subdivisions, and their officers, employees or agents.”
He also asked for amendments to make counties responsible for 75% of the damages paid to exonerated people and to terminate the program after two years – requiring the 2023 Legislature to decide whether to continue it.
“Since this is a new program, the next legislature should review it to ensure it should be continued or revised,” Gianforte said in his letter.
The House and Senate will have to vote on whether to accept Gianforte’s amendments. If they do, the bill will go forward with the changes. If they don’t, Gianforte would decide whether to sign or veto the unamended bill.