Montana lawmakers reject three votes for special session

Montana lawmakers last week rejected three separate calls for special legislative sessions proposed on different policy ideas.

The Montana State Capitol in Helena, Montana.

THOM BRIDGE, Independent Record

The proposals came in quick succession from Republican lawmakers in early May – including one from Republican House Speaker Matt Regier – and explicitly addressed voter registration, immigration laws, and revenue from marijuana taxes and judicial elections.

In any case, a majority of the 150-member legislature is needed to call a special session. The closest the three polls came to the 76-vote threshold was 59 votes for approval, and supporters already had a slim lead; the highest approval that any poll found was 113 votes.

All three votes were initiated by Republicans, and their caucus had mixed results. Each vote had more votes in favor than against, but none reached the number of votes needed to reconvene the House.

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Democrats voted unanimously against the special sessions or did not return their ballots, which were counted as no votes.

Reps. Jane Gillette (R-Bozeman) and Caleb Hinkle (R-Belgrade) proposed a special session to implement partisan judicial elections, a proposal that appeared in four bills during the 2023 legislative session and was also rejected. The vote failed by a total vote of 50 to 59.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Matt Regier

Speaker of the House Matt Regier (R-Kalispell) presides over the Montana House of Representatives at the Montana State Capitol on April 20, 2023.

THOM BRIDGE, Independent Record

Regier, R-Kalispell, made a second special session proposal following the arrival of a migrant family in the Flathead Valley, urging lawmakers to consider legislation giving state law enforcement the power to arrest immigrants. His special session proposal also included a second chance to push through a widely accepted plan for distributing marijuana tax revenue. The poll for Regier's special session was 59-54, well under the 76-vote threshold.

The Montana Freedom Caucus filed its third request for a special session, this time to enact stricter voter identification requirements that would have largely mirrored federal law. That request was defeated by a vote of 52 to 60.

Organizing special sessions of legislators has always been difficult. Only once has the legislature voted to return to Helena for a special session, while the vast majority of votes were taken at the governor's order.

Before the latest round of proposals for a special session, lawmakers called for a reconvening three times last year as state property tax estimates sparked outrage across the state. None of those proposals passed, either.

Montana State News Bureau

Seaborn Larson has worked for the Montana State News Bureau since 2020. His previous roles include covering local crime and courts at the Missoulian and Great Falls Tribune, and daily news reporting at the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell.

Anna Harden

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