Last week, lawmakers in Montana defied Governor Greg Gianforte’s veto yet again, this time overriding an appropriations bill that contains provisions for directing cannabis tax funds to a program aimed at enhancing habitats. The Montana Wildlife Federation, the Montana Association of Counties and Wild Montana all expressed their approval of the legislature’s decision to override Gianforte’s veto of HB 868, the appropriations bill.
The groups are currently suing the state’s secretary and Gianforte because of the governor’s veto of SB 442. The bill, which enjoyed widespread support, seeks to redistribute revenue from Montana’s cannabis tax toward county road funding, the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program, the Habitat Montana program and other initiatives. Additionally, it aims to modify the structure established by lawmakers during the 2021 session.
In his veto letter for SB 442, which coincided with the Senate’s adjournment on May 2, 2023, Gianforte criticized the bill for not including an appropriation and therefore rendering it ineffective. However, supporters of HB 868 argued on the day of the veto and in the subsequent weeks that the bill included provisions for appropriating funds to SB 442.
An analysis conducted by the Program Planning and Budget Office confirmed that HB 868 indeed contained an appropriation for SB 442. However, it also noted that the inclusion of this language, along with coordinating amendments, seemed to fall outside the bill’s intended scope. As a result, the amendments and statutory appropriation appeared to be invalid.
Senator Mike Lang, the bill’s sponsor, along with the groups involved in its development, have maintained that the governor’s SB 442 veto was inappropriate. They argue that since the bill was not read on the Senate rostrum before the adjournment vote, legislators should be allowed to attempt an override through a poll.
The Montana Association of Counties filed a lawsuit against Gianforte and Christi Jacobsen, the state’s secretary, on June 7, 2023, seeking a court order to enable the legislature to do a poll override vote or to declare the bill as law due to alleged procedural violations by Gianforte.
The Montana Wildlife Federation and Wild Montana also filed lawsuits against Jacobsen and Gianforte on the same day. Their lawsuit sought the judge to order Gianforte to give Jacobsen the veto so that she could give lawmakers a poll on a veto override.
There is no established hearing date for either lawsuit. According to court documents, the plaintiffs’ lawyers are requesting subpoenas for Jacobsen and Gianforte in both cases.
But the associations expressed their satisfaction with the legislature’s decision to overturn HB 868. To override Gianforte’s veto, the override poll needed two-thirds of the votes in both the House and the Senate, which it received with 72 votes in the former and 35 in the latter. Since the end of the session, lawmakers have overridden four vetoes.
As the recreational cannabis market stabilizes in the state, we could see the mushrooming of various ancillary companies similar to Advanced Container Technologies Inc. (OTC: ACTX) rising up to the opportunity presented by the needs of cannabis firms.
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