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Lawmakers Consider Bills That Could Change Judicial Branches

Gavel and Themis statue in the court library.
Zolnierek/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Gavel and Themis statue in the court library.

HELENA — The Montana Legislature has considered nearly a dozen bills this session aimed at changing how Montana’s judicial branch is formed and how it works.

One controversial bill that would allow the governor to directly appoint judges for vacancies in district courts and the Supreme Court passed the House on Monday. Senate Bill 140, sponsored by Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, passed on a 67-32 vote. It needs one more vote in the Senate before going to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk.

But, another bill, which would have politicized the state Supreme Court by forcing would-be Supreme Court justices to file with a political party, failed Monday.

House Bill 355, sponsored by Rep. Scot Kerns, R-Great Falls, died on a 44-56 vote. An earlier version of the bill would have applied to all judges, not just those running for the Supreme Court.

Rep. David Bedey, R-Hamilton, voted against the bill.

“This was a bad idea the first time we heard it, it’s a bad idea now,” Bedey said.

The “first time” Bedey alluded to was House Bill 334, which would have had the same effect. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, also died on a 44-56 vote at second reading.

Supporters like Rep. Jimmy Patelis, R-Billings, said the bill was for “consumer protection.”

“It’s no different than us as legislators,” Patelis said. “The people in the community should know what political affiliation you are.”

A similar bill, House Bill 342, would have done the same thing, but died in the House last week -- also on a vote of 44-56.

James Bradley is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.

James Bradley
UM Legislative News Service