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Last-minute election measures quickly passed by Legislature
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Last-minute election measures quickly passed by Legislature

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Montana State News Bureau Chief Holly Michels summarizes the day's news from the Montana Legislative session for April 28, 2021.

As the legislative session dwindles down to its final days, Republicans on Tuesday rushed a pair of controversial election bills to the governor’s desk after giving them substantial alterations in recent days.

House Bill 530, amended the previous day to borrow from a defeated bill that sought to restrict ballot collection, needed a two-thirds vote in the House in order to bypass a deadline it missed. After the first attempt by bill sponsor Rep. Wendy McKamey, R-Ulm, fell short, she tried again and got it through, with every Republican and one Democrat voting for it. Republicans hold a 67-33 majority in the House.

The recycled language, while not going as far as the voted-down House Bill 406, prohibits anyone from turning in another person’s ballot if they receive a “pecuniary benefit” for doing so. Democrats have criticized that term as undefined and argued it could be construed to include caretakers for people with disabilities or those in nursing homes, who might need assistance getting and turning in their ballot.

With the rules of the House and Senate suspended for the day, the bill was able to clear final votes in both chambers, along mostly party lines.

And House Bill 651, which last week was amended to include language similar to a “regulatory takings” bill that was decisively defeated earlier this month, is also headed to the governor’s desk.

Under the bill, signature petitions for future ballot initiatives would have to include warning label if the attorney general determines the proposal could hurt businesses.

Sponsored by Rep. Marta Bertoglio, R-Clancy, it was amended by Republicans on the Senate State Administration Committee to include the warning label language, as well as barring citizen-brought initiatives from increasing or expanding eligibility for government programs.

The bill was originally written to insert the Legislature into the ballot initiative process, requiring that a committee of legislators vote to approve or disapprove of the measure before a group backing the initiative can begin collecting the petition signatures needed to place it on the ballot. The result of that vote would be placed on the petition. That portion remains in the bill.

HB 651 passed both second and third reading in the House on Tuesday along party-line votes.

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