The Montana Federation of Public Employees; Montana Farmers Union; Jeff Barber, a Helena Realtor; Ron Ostberg, a farmer from Fairfield; and Dennis McDonald, a rancher from Melville have filed suit against the Montana Attorney General and Secretary of State for failing to follow HB 651, which was passed and signed into law during the 2021 Legislative Session.
HB 651 amended Montana law so the Attorney General must now examine all ballot initiatives for any negative effect on Montana businesses. In addition, the Secretary of State must refer all ballot issues to a legislative committee for review prior to signature gathering.
Both the Montana Attorney General and Secretary of State failed to fulfill their legal obligations under HB 651 when reviewing CI-121, a constitutional initiative that fundamentally changes the way property taxes are established.
“CI-121 is a very complex and far-reaching initiative with unforeseen consequences for all Montanans,” said MFPE President Amanda Curtis, whose union is one of the plaintiffs. “In fact, they tried this stunt in California and, as expected, it has been a spectacular failure. The Attorney General and Secretary of State have a legal duty to review and inform the public of the risks involved and to protect Montana businesses, but they failed to do so and that’s why we are being forced to file this suit. Not a single Montanan should sign any petition until they have all the facts.”
The suit being brought against the State of Montana asserts that the Attorney General refused to evaluate whether now CI-121 would cause significant harm to businesses, despite the Montana law mandating his review of “proposed ballot issues.”
“As a Montana farmer, CI-121 has me very concerned,” said Ron Ostberg, a farmer from Fairfield. “This proposed change to the Montana Constitution could have a devastating effect on Montana farmers and ranchers since it would shift the state’s tax burden onto family farms like mine. That could crush us.”
The plaintiffs are requesting an injunction on the collection of signatures and that the Secretary of State send CI-121 to the executive director of legislative services for its review by an appropriate interim committee pursuant to Montana law. The suit also seeks a declaration that the Attorney General’s review of CI-121 was defective for failing to evaluate its impacts on businesses, and a directive that the Attorney General take this action.