HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer issued a stern warning Monday that he will veto a growing list of bills he says are unconstitutional, frivolous or don’t deal with jobs.
Schweitzer, a Democrat, said the Legislature’s own lawyers have warned that at least 20 Republican-backed bills could be unconstitutional. The governor said he thinks that list is conservative — making it clear there could be a lot of vetoes.
Republicans said they are moving ahead with their legislative plans and will deal with the vetoes individually when they come. The GOP has a big majority but doesn’t have enough votes in the Senate to override vetoes.
“It’s still early in the process. Let the Legislature do its work here for a little bit,” said Senate President Jim Peterson, a rancher from Buffalo. “I don’t think the governor has any special license to tell citizen legislators whey they can and can’t do on behalf of their constituents.”
Schweitzer said the list of unconstitutional bills includes anti-illegal immigrant measures like one heard Monday that attempts to interpret the U.S. Constitution with a new state law clarifying who gets citizenship. Other GOP measures would attempt to nullify federal laws like the Endangered Species Act, or proclaim state eminent domain authority over federal lands.
Other examples that attempt to undermine the federal health care law that lawyers have warned could run up against the supremacy clause, which says the Constitution and federal law is “the supreme law of the land,” or separation of powers concerns at the state level for ordering the attorney general to take action in a lawsuit.
Schweitzer said his failed lawsuit last year challenging the constitutionality of a spending measure is prompting him to consider many more vetoes since the judge in the case told the governor he should veto those he views as unconstitutional rather than sue over them.
“We are sworn to uphold the Constitution. And I will uphold my part of it,” Schweitzer said. “I am not a lawyer but i can read the Constitution.”
Schweitzer said frivolous bills include one allowing spear hunting and another where lawmakers adopt an author’s Code of the West as the Code of Montana. The governor the said Montana families can set their own codes to live by, and under the Montana Constitution they have “an opportunity to live a life of freedom as they choose.”
Schweitzer said he thinks he has talked to a lot of concerned citizens in his years travelling the state.
“In seven years, in all those conversations there have been thousands of good ideas,” Schweitzer said. “But I never had a single person in all that time suggest that what we really need to do is have the right to hunt with a spear.”
The governor also castigated as ineffective the GOP rewrite of what previously had been a bipartisan measure to decrease worker’s compensation rates — sending a strong message he prefers the original joint labor-business offering. The Republican plan instead better rewards doctors and others, saving more of its money by cutting payments to workers.
The governor said he thinks the original, which is favored by labor interests, does a better job.
Peterson pointed out that the GOP plan has been independently scored to save state businesses $180 million a year.
“That could create as many jobs as anything we do here,” the Republican leader said. “That should be a signature bill for him.”
And the governor said he views attempts to undermine his “clean and green” tax incentives for alternative energy an attempt to kill jobs in a sector he has wooed for transmission lines and wind farms. Supporters argue it is unfair to give the incentives to certain types of energy.
“Those are under assault by the Legislature right now — those are job killing bills,” Schweitzer said.
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