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Republican lawmakers seek more influence over the ballot initiative process

Montana State Senator Jason Ellsworth
Montana Legislative Services
Montana State Senator Jason Ellsworth

The Montana Supreme Court on Monday issued new language for a constitutional initiative on abortion access in order to resolve a legal battle over the wording.

The court wrote in a footnote that a legislative review is not warranted for the initiative, after rounds of legal debate. In such a review, lawmakers vote on whether or not they support a proposal, which is then noted on signature-gathering sheets.

Senate President Jason Ellsworth, a Republican from Hamilton, disagrees with that interpretation of the 2021 law.

“I think that’s an important part that’s kind of missing with the courts making a lot of these, what I think are, unconstitutional rulings, is we want the public to participate,” Ellsworth said.

Ellsworth subpoenaed Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen Tuesday, ordering the ballot initiative be sent before an interim committee for review.

Jacobsen’s office did not immediately say whether the Secretary of State will fulfill the subpoena.

Supporters of the proposal to enshrine abortion access in the Montana Constitution argue the subpoena aims to detrimentally delay the citizen ballot initiative process. The proposal must garner 60,000 signatures from across the state to earn a spot on the 2024 ballot.

On the same day as issuing the subpoena, Senate President Jason Ellsworth created a new select committee on judicial oversight and reform with nine Senate Republicans. Republican legislators have been highly critical of the Court in recent years, saying justices usurp legislative powers in some of their rulings.

The committee will draft legislation to check the judiciary’s power, improve court processes and create more legislative oversight of the branch.

Democratic leaders are refusing to participate. They called the move a “temper tantrum” over Republican legislation blocked in court. They say they want to focus on problems like high property taxes and the housing crisis.

Copyright 2024 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.