2012’s Crowded Ballot

By Beacon Staff

With 2012 shaping up as one of Montana’s biggest election years in recent history, aspiring politicians aren’t the only ones scrambling to prepare: Supporters of several ballot initiatives are also manning busy intersections all over Montana with hopes of gathering enough signatures to put their issue before voters when they head to the polls next year.

Some of those initiatives aim to overturn the work of the 2011 state Legislature on recently passed laws strictly regulating Montana’s medical marijuana industry and conferring some eminent domain authority on corporations seeking to establish energy transmission corridors. In the case of initiatives, supporters must gather 24,337 signatures (5 percent of voters) from each of 34 legislative house districts.

To overturn an act of the Legislature, signatures from 15 percent of the total number of qualified electors in each of at least 51 house districts are required. That would require between 31,238 and 43,247 signatures by Sept. 30, depending on which districts the signatures come from.

However, other questions voters will confront on the ballot were referred there at the behest of a Republican-controlled Legislature attempting to avoid the veto pen of Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, on issues ranging from parental notice of abortion to proof of citizenship requirements.

Here’s a rundown of ballot initiatives, if they gain enough signatures, and legislative referendums voters will decide upon in 2012 – after they’re through picking a president, senator and congressional representative, among other offices.

IR-124: Supporters of an initiative allowing voters to weigh in on the new law passed by the 2011 Legislature cracking down on Montana’s medical marijuana industry recently announced they had collected 11,000 signatures as of July 31, and had begun submitting the petitions to county officials for validation.

The state of medical marijuana law remains far from clear. In a victory for medical marijuana advocates, a Helena district judge’s June decision temporarily blocked many of the toughest restrictions in the new law, like those that would have prevented caregivers from being able to charge for medical marijuana and limits to the number of patients they may grow for.

The court action comes on the heels of a difficult fight during the Legislature, where Gov. Brian Schweitzer vetoed a bill that would have totally repealed the voter-initiative passed in 2004. IR-124 allows voters to decide whether to accept or reject the new medical marijuana law, Senate Bill 423.

IR-125: A controversial law passed by the 2011 Legislature giving power-line companies the right to condemn property in the path of new lines will also be on the 2012 ballot, if supporters of this measure can gather enough signatures.

That new law, House Bill 198, is aimed at facilitating the development of power transmission lines to help grow Montana’s energy industry. But the bill has drawn the ire of many on the right and left who see it as a clear infringement on property rights, giving the power of eminent domain to power-line companies.

Democratic Public Service Commissioner John Vincent opposes HB 198, along with Sen. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman. Supporters of putting HB 198 on the ballot include the Montana Farmer’s Union, Montana Stockgrowers Association and Northern Plains Resource Council.

CI-108: Kalispell Dr. Annie Bukacek, head of the Montana ProLife Coalition, seeks to amend the Montana Constitution’s due process section to define “person” to include “all human beings at every stage of development, including the stage of fertilization or conception, regardless of age, health, level of functioning or condition of dependency.”

The measure, which would essentially ban abortion in Montana, failed to gain enough signatures to make the ballot in 2010.

CI-107: This measure, aimed at preventing unjust prosecutions, would amend the Montana Constitution to allow someone accused of a crime to argue to the jury the “propriety, applicability and merits” of the law they are alleged to have broken. It would also require the judge to inform the jury that it has the power to decide the “propriety, applicability and merits” of the law the person is accused of breaking.

LR 119: This referendum, the result of a bill sponsored by Sen. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman, would divide the state up into seven districts to allow for a Supreme Court justice elected from each district. Under the current system, all voters across Montana have the opportunity to vote for all seven members. Under Balyeat’s bill, voters would get to vote for one justice every eight years.

Balyeat argues that too many Supreme Court justices come from the area surrounding Helena, while opponents say the change could make geography, not interpreting the law, the foremost concern for justices. (This referendum will appear on the June 5, 2012 ballot.)

The following referendums will appear on the Nov. 6, 2012 general election ballot.

LR 120: This referendum, the result of a bill sponsored by Rep. Gerald Bennett, R-Libby, would prevent a doctor from performing an abortion on a minor unless her parents have been at least 48 hours’ notice.

The referendum allows for exceptions in the case of a medical emergency, or if the minor has successfully petitioned in court for a waiver of notice. It would also prevent a parent or guardian from coercing a minor to have an abortion.

Under the referendum doctors found guilty of performing an abortion in violation of these new requirements could be fined $500 and imprisoned up to six months, along with penalties for violating criminal obligation.

LR 121: The result of a bill sponsored by Rep. David Howard, R-Park City, this referendum would prohibit state agencies from providing services – including anything from the payment of money to issuing a permit or license – to illegal aliens.

To determine whether an applicant for a state service is an illegal alien, the agency would employ a verification program provided by the federal Department of Homeland Security. If an illegal alien is discovered, the agency would have to notify immigration and customs enforcement.

Applicants for these services, or for state employment, would be required to provide proof of citizenship or legal alien status. If passed, the law would take effect Jan. 1, 2013.

LR 122: This measure, from a bill sponsored by Sen. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, allows voters to weigh in on whether the state government should prohibit mandating the purchase of health insurance.

The measure is aimed at a provision in the 2010 federal healthcare reform law set to take effect in 2014, when all Americans will be required to obtain health coverage if they don’t have it. Because Republican legislators opposed to the law refused to give Montana authority to set up its own health-insurance exchanges, the federal government will design them.

Should voters decide Montana must resist the insurance mandate, it will likely set up one more standoff between some states and the federal government over the controversial law.

LR 123: This measure, also from a bill sponsored by Balyeat, would let voters decide whether excess state funds generated by taxpayers should be returned to them.

If the referendum is approved by voters, taxpayers would receive an income tax credit when the ending balance in the state general fund exceeds 125 percent of what lawmakers projected it to be for that year in the previous session. Should that occur, half of the excess fund balance, so long as it exceeds $5 million, would be refunded. Sixty percent of the money would go back to citizens based on the property taxes they owe and 40 percent would be based on the income taxes they paid.

Balyeat dubbed the measure the Treasure State Tax Dividend Program, and modeled it after a similar program in Alaska. During hearings on the bill, however, the head of the Montana Budget and Policy Center argued against it, saying the state’s surpluses and ending fund balance have served as a cushion during the tough economy, and account for much of why Montana’s current fiscal situation is better than almost every other state.

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