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Published January 16, 2024

District Court Rules on Senate Bill 442

Court requires Governor & Secretary of State to move forward with SB 442 override vote.

HELENA – This afternoon, the Lewis & Clark County District Court issued a ruling requiring Governor Greg Gianforte to take the appropriate steps to allow the Montana Legislature to vote on overriding his veto of Senate Bill 442.

In June, the Montana Association of Counties, Wild Montana, and the Montana Wildlife Federation sued Governor Gianforte and Secretary of State Jacobsen for preventing the Legislature from overriding the Governor’s veto of SB 442. The three organizations alleged that the Governor and Secretary ignored the Montana Constitution when the Governor vetoed Senate Bill 442 and failed to communicate his veto to the Secretary, who in turn failed to poll the Legislature to override the veto.

Because of this, the Legislature had no opportunity to override the Governor’s veto despite the Montana Constitution guaranteeing it the authority to do so.

The Secretary of State must now issue the veto override poll. Normally, the Secretary must issue the veto override poll within five days. Legislators then have 30 days to submit their responses.

Senate Bill 442 garnered votes from 130 of 150 state legislators, easily surpassing the two-thirds threshold needed to trigger a veto override process. The bill’s provisions were aimed at addressing several areas of public concern: it allocated crucial funding for county road maintenance, habitat conservation and public access initiatives, support for veterans and widowed spouses, and substance abuse treatment.

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Stakeholder Comments

The petitioners and plaintiffs, bill sponsor, county commissioners, and other stakeholders have issued the following statements regarding today’s ruling:

Jason Rittal, Montana Association of Counties Deputy Director

The legislature has the constitutional authority to check executive overreach – period. With that clear, it’s time to pass SB 442 and invest in the infrastructure that agricultural producers, first responders, law enforcement, sportsmen, and all rural Montanans depend on.”

Noah Marion, Wild Montana Political and State Policy Director

“The governor has to play by the rules, just like everyone else. He can’t hijack the legislature’s authority, and the court’s decision makes it clear he has to respect the constitution. Now the legislature can do what it voted for months ago: pass SB 442 and invest $30 million in habitat conservation and public access”

Frank Szollosi, Executive Director, Montana Wildlife Federation

“SB 442 will be transformative for Montanans by improving wildlife and landscapes while supporting veterans and rural communities. It’s poised to be the largest investment in Montana’s wildlife habitat in over four decades, and we’re eager to work with our partners in the legislature to make it law.”

Senator Mike Lang, Malta

“I’m glad SB 442 has been restored to its proper legal status. It’s a bipartisan bill that supports Montana values and benefits Montanans all across our great state, and I encourage the Secretary of State to issue the veto override poll ASAP. This is the same bill 130 legislators supported during the session, and I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues to secure historic investments in rural infrastructure, agricultural communities, veteran’s services, and our drug abuse epidemic.”

Ross Butcher, Fergus County Commissioner and MACo President

“A lot of Fergus County’s 1,700+ miles of roads are falling apart due to the extraordinary traffic impact caused by out-of-area recreationists outpacing the local ability to keep them up within our regular maintenance schedules. This makes it tough for recreationists, citizens, and ag producers. The story’s the same across the state – most counties don’t have wiggle room in their budgets, and this SB 442 investment will go a long way.”

 Gordon Oelkers, Roosevelt County Commissioner and MACo 2nd Vice President

“Counties have a tremendous number of roads used by Fish & Game Block Management Program hunters, and the cost of maintenance has outpaced the property-tax funded road budget. Likewise, first responders and law enforcement need to move quickly to respond to emergencies, and SB 442 would help us improve roads and make our communities safer.

Todd Devlin, Prairie County Commissioner

“Keeping our network of county roads safe and accessible for the public is one of the biggest funding challenges we face in Prairie County. SB 442 is an investment in rural Montana that we need to keep fighting for.”

Greg Chilcott, Ravalli County Commissioner

“Senate Bill 442 united a historical coalition of Montanans to invest in our public lands and the county roads we use to access them. This is about giving local counties and local citizens the tools they need to be better stewards of Montana.”

Whitney Tawney, Montana Conservation Voters Executive Director

“Montanans of all stripes – including an overwhelming majority of the legislature – support SB 442. The Montana Legislature, elected by the people, has the final say on whether or not a bill becomes a law: let them vote and represent the people who elected them!”

Ken Koehler, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, Miles City

“SB 442 helps Montana’s disabled veterans and their widowed spouses by providing over $6 million of permanent property tax relief every year. SB 442 will also preserve recreation opportunities for Montana veterans who find healing on our public lands.”

Will Clark, Hunter and Conservationist, Kalispell 

“SB 442’s reinvestment into Habitat Montana and the new Habitat Legacy Account is a historic chance to preserve and enhance wildlife habitat and ensure that our generations-long hunting heritage remains strong. By supporting SB 442, our legislators can guarantee future generations the chance to experience the same profound connection to Montana’s wild spaces.”

Additional Resources

Questions? We got you…

Montana Association of Counties  |  maco@mtcounties.org  |  (406) 449-4360