Posted on

Veto Override Push On Long-Debated Marijuana Money Bill Falls Short

A veto override effort on a much-debated marijuana revenue bill that initially passed the Montana Legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support last year has failed, according to poll results released Friday afternoon, April 19.

The override poll, conducted by a mail ballot by the Montana secretary of state’s office over the last month, attracted only 41 “yes” votes from state representatives and 24 from state senators — well short of the 67-vote and 34-vote two-thirds margins required for a successful veto override.

An additional 14 representatives and 2 senators voted against an override. The state’s remaining lawmakers didn’t respond to the poll, which has been the subject of long-running litigation stemming from the timing of Gov. Greg Gianforte’s initial veto. Senate Bill 442, sponsored by Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta, would have reworked the allocation of tax revenues from Montana’s voter- approved adult-use marijuana program to distribute dollars to conservation and trails programs, veteran services, and local infrastructure projects including county roads. The measure passed the Legislature last year with the backing of influential interest groups and the backing of influential interest groups and the support from 130 of 150 state lawmakers.

But Gianforte, a Republican, took issue with the bill’s creation of an ongoing state funding stream for county road projects traditionally funded by local jurisdictions and vetoed the bill on the last day of the legislative session. The Senate voted to adjourn for the year before many senators were aware of the veto, precluding an in-session veto override vote and spurring litigation.

A court order eventually compelled the state to allow lawmakers the opportunity to override the veto via mail poll. The governor and Senate Republican leadership criticized that order, saying it was an inappropriate judicial intrusion into the legislative process. Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, who is responsible for administering the by-mail override process, issued the poll on March 19.

Senate President Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, publicly discouraged lawmakers from participating in the poll, disparaging it as “unconstitutional” in a letter co-signed by 27 other GOP senators last month. Lang, however, has continued to support the legislation publicly, as have many Democrats.

'I applaud the Montana Legislature for today rejecting radical judicial overreach, as the court sought to meddle in the legislative process,” Gianforte said in a statement Friday, April 19.

“The results of this unconstitutional veto override poll are exactly as expected,” Ellsworth said in a statement Friday. “A majority of the Senate told the judicial and executive branches we would not recognize it as legitimate, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Democrats and groups that had supported the bill expressed disappointment.

“Today, Republicans chose party loyalty over supporting veterans, public lands, and rural roads,” Senate Minority Leader Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade and House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, D-Helena, said in a statement.

Three of the groups that had supported the bill, the Montana Wildlife Federation, Wild Montana, and the Montana Association of Counties, decried what they called “delay tactics and political maneuvers” they said the governor used to thwart the veto override push and pledged to introduce similar legislation when the Legislature convenes in 2025.

“Our coalition of hunters, anglers, ranchers, county commissioners, veterans, and Montanans across the state remains united and committed to addressing these pressing issues,” MWF executive director Frank Szollosi said.

The failure of Senate Bill 442 means that Montana marijuana tax revenue will continue, at least for the time being, to be distributed according to a law passed by the 2021 Legislature, with various allocations going to an addiction treatment fund, wildlife habitat work, parks and trails, and the state General Fund.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *