Blair Miller 

(Daily Montanan) Legislators overrode another veto issued by Gov. Greg Gianforte this week, this time an appropriations bill that includes the mechanism to send marijuana tax money to a habitat improvement program through another vetoed bill that several groups have sued over.

Representatives for the Montana Association of Counties, Wild Montana, and the Montana Wildlife Federation this week lauded legislators’ override of Gianforte’s veto of the appropriations bill, House Bill 868.

The three groups are suing Gianforte and the secretary of state over the governor’s veto of Senate Bill 442, the broadly supported bill that redistributes Montana’s marijuana tax revenue to put it toward Habitat Montana, the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program, and county road funding, among other things, and tweaks the structure lawmakers decided on in the 2021 session.

“This is an important step, as the governor stated he vetoed SB 442 in part because there was no appropriation,” said MACO Executive Director Eric Bryson. “Then he vetoed the appropriation when he vetoed HB 868. Those were the Governor’s decisions, in contradiction to the will of the Legislature, and we are thankful for the Legislature’s ability to overturn that action.”

Gianforte wrote in his SB 442 veto letter, which was issued right around the time the Senate voted to adjourn the legislative session on May 2, that the bill “glaringly omits an appropriation, failing to fund itself.”

“Without an appropriation, the bill does nothing,” he wrote.

But HB 868 contained language that appropriated the funding for SB 442, the bill’s sponsors and other supporters had argued on the day of the veto and in the weeks since then.

fiscal analysis of the bill from the Governor’s Office of Budget and Program Planning said the bill indeed contained an appropriation for SB 442, but also said the inclusion of that and coordinating language for the bill “appears to be outside the title of the bill … and therefore the amendments to SB 442 and the statutory appropriation appear to be invalid.”

Sponsor Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta, and the groups that worked on the bill during the session have for weeks argued that Gianforte’s veto of SB 442 was improper because it was not read across the Senate rostrum by the time the chamber voted to adjourn, and that lawmakers should be able to try to override the veto through a poll – the mechanism used for bills vetoed after the session has adjourned.

On June 7, MACO sued Gianforte and Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, asking a judge to allow the legislature to vote on a poll override or to declare SB 442 law because they say Gianforte did not follow proper procedures.

That same day, Wild Montana and the Montana Wildlife Federation also sued Gianforte and Jacobsen, calling on a judge to have Gianforte return the veto to Jacobsen so she can mail out a veto override poll to lawmakers.

Neither lawsuit has had a hearing date set. Court records show plaintiffs’ attorneys in both cases are seeking subpoenas of Gianforte and Jacobsen.

But the three groups said they were pleased by the legislature’s override of HB 868. The override poll received 72 votes in the House and 35 in the Senate, meeting the two-thirds requirements in both chambers to override Gianforte’s veto. It marked the fourth veto lawmakers have overridden since the end of the session.

Wild Montana state policy director Noah Marion said the successful override sent a “clear signal” the legislature is still committed to seeing SB 442 become law. Montana Wildlife Federation executive director Frank Szollosi said he commended the override.

“This vote is a resounding testament that it’s time to stop bickering over the allocation of marijuana tax revenue and instead focus on the will of thousands of Montanans who have vocally championed the policy provisions of SB 442,” Szollosi said in a statement. “We look forward to a similar result when the secretary of state sends out the poll on SB 442.”

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