Caven Wade

(UM Legislative News Service) A bill on Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk would require a judge to place a bond and collect securities from plaintiffs who are seeking injunctions that prevent the ability to hunt or harvest wild game in the state.

Rep. Jedediah Hinkle, R-Belgrade, is sponsoring House Bill 419, which he said would strengthen a portion of the Montana Constitution that gives residents the rights to hunt and harvest through the “Heritage Clause.”

“It’s a great bill. It’s a design to eliminate the process of hurting people through legal assaults and lawsuits,” Sen. John Fuller, R-Kalispell, who carried the bill in the Senate, said.

HB 419 also creates language in Montana law that outlines the process of individuals or groups seeking injunctions or restraining orders that would directly undermine the constitutional right to hunt, fish and trap, and states that, “The amount of the written undertaking must be the greater of $50,000 or a reasonable estimation of the aggregate losses to all persons whose opportunities are diminished by the injunction or restraining order.”

The bill passed the House on a party-line vote 65-33 on Feb. 23, and passed the Senate on party-lines again 33-17 on April 18. The bill now awaits Gov. Greg Gianforte’s signature before becoming law.

“Time and time again we watch lawsuits that are ultimately won by the defendant, and the process is the punishment, and so the financial toll on these individuals as they defend themselves is astronomical,” Fuller said.

No supporters of the bill spoke during the floor discussion on the bill.

Sen. Willis Curdy, D-Missoula, spoke against the bill during the Senate floor debate, and said that this essentially makes it so individuals who want to place an injunction against agencies like Fish, Wildlife and Parks would need to have the financial capabilities to put up a $50,000 bond.

“It basically denies Montanans’ rights to challenge their government, and hinders access and equal protection of the law. This is another one of the pay-to-play bills that we’ve seen come across this body in the last couple weeks,” Curdy said.

He said that it would have a decimating impact on local hunting and angling groups, and could impact the right to hunt, trap or fish in Montana. He said out-of-state groups would have no problems generating cash for bonds to move forward with injunctions if this bill were passed.