Montana’s Governor Faces 260 Bills to Sign or Veto

State GOP legislative leaders held off delivering them until the last minute as political payback

By Molly Priddy

HELENA — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock faces 260 legislative bills that he must soon decide to veto or sign. That’s because state legislative leaders held off delivering them until the last minute as political payback for Bullock’s decision to use his bill amendment powers to change voting legislation sent to him earlier this year, officials said Wednesday.

The number of bills that Bullock, a Democrat, must consider is the highest ever recorded for a Montana governor after the Legislature has adjourned, according to data compiled by the state legislative division following a request from The Associated Press.

The legislature is dominated by Republicans, and House Speaker Austin Knudsen said he delayed sending the bills to Bullock because of lawmaker anger over Bullock’s decision to send the bill back to legislators in April with new language authorizing election clerks across the state to conduct the May 25 special congressional election by mail.

Bullock employed his “amendatory veto” power to change the legislation. Legislative leaders in April started holding off sending bills to him and did so until the session ended because Montana governors can only exercise the power while the Legislature is in session.

The bills delivered to him after the session ended can only be approved or vetoed. If Bullock does nothing with some of them, they automatically become law 10 days after delivery to the governor’s office.

“Just to be safe, I held them all,” said Knudsen, a Republican from Culbertson. “It came to the point that I wasn’t going to send him any more bills until we were out of here.”

Ronja Abel, Bullock’s spokeswoman, accused Knudsen and other Republicans of intentionally “preventing the governor from improving some pieces of legislation in the best interest of Montanans.”

Bullock was in California Wednesday at a conference but was expected to resume reviewing the bills, most already analyzed by his staff, after returning later in the day.

The bills that have stacked up have varying deadlines of when Bullock must take action because they were not all delivered on the same day. About 150 were provided to his office earlier this week, but 100 bills had not arrived yet.

The backlog of legislation for his consideration is more than double what Bullock faced at the end of Montana’s 2015 legislative session. About 180 bills awaited gubernatorial consideration at the end of the 2013 session and there were fewer than 150 at the end of the 2011 session.

Montana holds its state legislative sessions every other year.