With just over a month remaining before voters go to the polls, a Montana District Court’s ruling has thrown into question whether Initiative 154, a takings measure, will be on the ballot November 7.
The Montana Secretary of State describes the measure as a “citizen initiative to amend Montana law to require governments to waive regulations that reduce property values unless they compensate owners, and prohibiting takings intended to transfer property to private parties.”
In a strongly worded ruling, Judge Dirk M. Sandefur of the Montana Eighth Judicial District Court (Cascade County) cited a “pervasive pattern and practice of fraud and procedural non-compliance” attributable to those who collected the required signatures to put the initiative on the ballot. In the same order, Sandefur also threw out Constitutional Initiatives 97 (a proposed constitutional amendment to limit state spending) and 98 (a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a voter recall for state court justices and judges).
The challenge — brought by three political committees, each opposed to one of the three initiatives — alleged that professional signature collectors who had been hired for all three efforts misled voters and failed to follow Montana law regarding the collection of ballot signatures.
Proponents of the measures have appealed to the Montana Supreme Court, which has requested that all briefs in the matter be filed by October 3. Should it reverse the lower court’s ruling, Montanans should be prepared for a fast and furious campaign by both sides.
Jonathan Motl, a lawyer in Helena who’s a veteran of several ballot-issue campaign complaints, has also alleged campaign-finance violations by proponents of Initiative 154 and the other two measures in complaints filed with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices in July. The commissioner’s office is investigating the complaints.