Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) A county judge denied Gov. Greg Gianforte’s effort to delay a legislative vote on his veto of a bill that would have redirected marijuana tax money to county roads and conservation.

On Tuesday, Lewis and Clark County judge Mike Menehan denied a stay of his own order requiring Gianforte to send Senate Bill 442 back to the Montana Legislature to allow legislators to possibly override Gianforte’s veto.

Previously, on Jan. 16, Menehan ruled that the Governor and Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen must follow the Montana Constitution and allow the 2023 Legislature the opportunity to override the governor’s last-minute veto of Senate Bill 442.

On Feb. 6 the Governor asked the court to “stay” that ruling while he prepares to appeal, arguing that the Legislature wasn't deprived of the opportunity to override the veto - it could have reconvened. Menehan did not agree, saying Gianforte’s legal team “conveniently omits the language most relevant to this litigation” which says when the governor must return a vetoed bill to allow an override vote.

“The Court finds ordering a stay would be inimical to the public interest as it would prevent the lawmaking process from moving forward,” Menehan wrote in his order Tuesday. “The public interest lies in removing any uncertainties which may lead to gamesmanship in the lawmaking process. Respondents’ actions have interrupted the political process in an impermissible way by preventing the legislature from having the final say in the process by which a bill becomes law. Staying the Court’s judgment would allow Gianforte to continue to exercise an unconstitutional level of control over the lawmaking process.”

Gianforte and Jacobsen have 14 days to comply with Menehan’s order, which requires Jacobsen to poll the Legislature on whether to override Gianforte’s veto of SB442.

“Today, the Court assures us that Montana is no monarchy," said Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, executive director of Upper Seven Law, the law firm representing Wild Montana and Montana Wildlife Federation. “The Legislature’s lawmaking authority is not subject to the Governor’s whims, invented loopholes, or gamesmanship. Despite the Governor’s repeated attempts to avoid responsibility, today’s order requires that he play by the same constitutional rules as everybody else.”

Carried by Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta, SB 442 allocated a majority of Montana’s marijuana tax money to a number of enterprises, including county road maintenance, wildlife habitat preservation, nongame wildlife programs and state parks and trails. The fact that SB 442 benefitted a wide array of Montanans gave it bipartisan appeal, helping it pass both the House and Senate with 87% in support in April 2023. That far surpassed the two-third’s supermajority needed for the Legislature to override a veto.

On May 2, 2023, Gianforte vetoed SB 442 within a day of it hitting his desk. Had both chambers been in session, legislators could have then voted to override the veto. Had both chambers been adjourned, the governor is constitutionally required to send the bill and veto memo to the Secretary of State, who would then poll legislators for a vote on the veto.

But the Senate had adjourned only hours before the veto, although the House was still in session. So the governor let his veto stand, arguing that a loophole in the text of the Montana Constitution excused the failure to initiate an out-of-session veto override process.

Wild Montana and the Montana Wildlife Federation sued the Governor’s Office on June 7, saying the governor robbed the Legislature of its Constitutional right to override a veto. On Wednesday Noah Marion, Wild Montana political and state policy director, said Gianforte should stop stalling.

“Over the last year, millions of dollars could have been spent benefiting Montana's infrastructure, veterans, agriculture industry, wildlife, and outdoor enthusiasts. Instead, the Governor has wasted countless taxpayer dollars obstructing the legislature. We look forward to helping Sen. Lang and the legislature finally get SB 442 over the finish line,” Marion said in a release.

In June, the Montana Association of Counties filed a separate suit in a Helena district court. It was later combined with the Wild Montana/Montana Wildlife Federation lawsuit. On Wednesday, Eric Bryson, Montana Association of Counties executive director, praised Menehan’s order.

"Once again, the Court instructed the governor to stop playing games and allow the legislature the opportunity to perform its constitutional duty. We expect the Secretary of State to initiate the polling as soon as possible,” Bryson said in a release.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at