Posted: Apr 5, 2013 8:45 AM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
HELENA - The deadline for state lawmakers to propose referenda is Friday, and this session there are several referenda being proposed on issues ranging from abortion, sex education, voting and election laws. All of them are carried by Republicans.
A referendum sends a particular issue to the ballot so Montana voters can choose whether or not they like the idea.
"It gives the people of Montana a chance to vote on bills, and to enact pieces of legislation into law that the governor doesn't like, but the citizens of Montana like," said Representative Steve Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Great Falls.
Referenda do not go to the governor's desk for signature. They are simply stuck on the ballot if the Legislature passes them.
Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Hunter said this process is very important, but is being abused by Republicans to avoid checks and balances.
"These bills are an attempt to circumvent that check," he said, "particularly circumvent the governor as one of the check and balances and just have the majority party which exists in both Houses exert their will on a bill and put it out to the people.
Many of the referenda that are still alive were previously regular bills. But after sensing the governor would likely veto them, Republicans changed the format and are taking the issues straight to voters.
Last session Republicans extended the referendum deadline, giving lawmakers more time to see if they need to convert their bills into a ballot issue. This change led to a very long ballot in the 2012 election.
If the Legislature green lights all the referenda this session, the length of the ballot will certainly continue to grow.