PROMO Map - Montana State Map - iStock - dk_photos

Group rallies to protect Montana constitution

© iStock - dk_photos
Mark Moran

(Big Sky Connection) The new year begins with the prospect of big changes to the Montana state Constitution that have been drafted by GOP lawmakers and opposed by conservation groups and others.

The Republican-controlled Legislature has already introduced almost four dozen measures to change the document, which dates to the early 1970s. It's the first GOP super-majority in a half-century, and seems determined to change what has long been considered a "progressive" document that protects the state's natural resources.

Jeanne Marie Souvigney, treasurer of the Montana Conservation Voters Education Fund, said lawmakers are irritated that the state Supreme Court found two laws unconstitutional, which she said allowed for pollution to degrade the Blackfoot River and Paradise Valley.

"In both cases," she said, "the environmental damage could have been irreversible and the remedies too late to make a difference, threatening both those landscapes."

While close to 50 bill requests have been made before the Legislature even gavels in next week, typically only a third of them become bills that can be debated by lawmakers. But it is still nearly four times the number of bill requests made in the last session. In addition to environmental policy, there are measures that would change policies on college campuses, gender identity and abortion. 

The Conservation Voters group has launched an effort to teach the public and lawmakers about the uniqueness and importance of the document.

Mae Nan Ellingson, who was one of the original delegates to the Montana Constitutional Convention and is one of only ten remaining, called the move to make major changes, including giving the Legislature more power than the courts, dangerous. 

"The proposals that I have seen go a long way to destroy the integrity of this notion of three equal branches of government," she said, "with separation of power and checks and balances."

The Montana Legislature convenes next Monday.