The State Legislature is Disrespecting Montana Voters to Empty Public Lands Coffers
State leadership is ignoring voters and colleagues to ransack public lands funding
This week, in a stunning display of poor governance and public process, majority leadership and the Governor’s office worked behind closed doors to force through legislation, over the objections of their constituents and colleagues, to cripple a fair recreational marijuana program and ransack critical public lands programs.
In doing so they showed their complete disregard for parks, trails, public lands, and all of us who use them. Speak up now to hold legislators accountable for this stunning display.
On Thursday, the House advanced four bills - HB 670, 683, 701, and 707 - for a vote on the House floor. Each bill would strip millions of dollars from accounts intended to enhance wildlife habitat, support public access, protect working farms and ranches, and boost hunting and fishing opportunities.
Each bill also directly contradicts the will of Montana voters, who strongly support using this funding to support our public lands and outdoor way of life.
HB 701, the Gianforte administration-endorsed bill to implement recreational marijuana and appropriate revenue, removes the largest allocation for land acquisition and easements through Habitat Montana, effectively crippling the program and putting habitat conservation and public access at serious risk.
The will of the voters was clear: this revenue should be used to sustain our way of life and Montana’s booming outdoor recreation economy. Our public lands enjoy broad bipartisan support across our great, diverse state, and rejecting a sensible plan to invest in what makes Montana special shows state leadership’s utter lack of respect for their constituents, colleagues, and outdoors.
It’s simple: just because the legislature has the constitutional authority to ignore voters’ wishes does not mean it is the right thing to do.
Three other bills that also advanced on Thursday - HB 670, 683, and 707 - also strip funding from public lands priorities like trails, state parks, wildlife management, and habitat and access acquisitions and easements.
So what exactly happened on Thursday?
After considering HB 701 in House Business and Labor, House Leadership referred the bill to the House Taxation Committee. That committee voted HB 701 down by a bipartisan vote.
At nearly the same time, House Business and Labor voted down HB 707.
So both bills were dead, right?
Wrong. Leadership was already prepared to strong-arm legislators into changing their votes.
Right after committees voted both bills down, leadership from the Senate and House cornered committee members in the hallway outside the meeting rooms and forced them to bring the bills back up and change their votes.
No points for guessing what happened next. The committees reconsidered HB 701 and HB 707 and passed them on party-line votes. Every Republican who voted no changed their vote to yes.
Why the egregious bully tactics?
Because the Governor’s office and Republican leadership desperately want their marijuana revenue plan to be the marijuana revenue plan, even though Montana voters and some legislators in the Governor’s party don’t.
These tactics, and the resulting legislation, have left a diverse group of advocates, business owners, and public land users angry and disappointed. The bills that are now before the Montana House ignore the will of Montana voters, plunder money from key conservation and public lands initiatives, and threaten the future of our outdoor way of life. The legislature’s my-way-or-the-highway behavior is an egregious breach of the trust of Montana voters, and they should be ashamed.
Please speak up today and tell Montana’s state representatives that they need to respect the voters and stop showing complete disregard for their constituents and the public lands they depend on. Contact your legislator today.
State Policy Director
Noah works to develop state-level policies to protect and enhance our public lands, waters, wildlife, and access to outdoor recreation. He works with elected officials and partners as MWA’s lobbyist in order to advance conservation priorities at the state legislature. He enjoys rafting, fly fishing, backcountry skiing, hiking, and road trips with his wife and two dogs