This election cycle, the Exponent has chosen to flesh out and describe ballot issues that will be placed in the hands of voters on Nov. 8. The following describes a summary of each ballot issue, and what will happen if each is approved by voters.
I-181: Montana Biomedical Research Authority
Initiative No. 181 (I-181) is an act intended “to provide funding to develop new therapies to treat and cure brain diseases, brain injuries and mental illness, to develop centers of research and clinical excellence, to provide quality jobs for Montanans and to bring world-class students and researchers into Montana.” The act would establish the Montana Biomedical Research Authority — a body that would oversee applications for funding for research on the development of therapies and cures for brain diseases and injuries and mental illnesses. The research would be funded by state bonds, with the act authorizing state bond debts of up to $200 million over the course of 10 years. If passed, I-181 would be effective Jan. 1, 2017 – June 30, 2037.
The initiative states that one in four Montanans suffers from a brain disease, injury or mental illness at some point in their lives, and that the number of Montanans with Alzheimer’s and related dementias is expected to reach 27,000 by 2025. In addition to providing better resources, including experimental treatment, to these patients, the act “seeks to reduce increasing costs to the state of caring for Alzheimer’s patients.”
The act also aims to “support Montana’s biomedical research organizations in attracting and retaining world-class students and faculty.”
All projects funded under the act would be peer-reviewed, and the Montana Biomedical Research Authority would be required to release an annual report each year showing grants and expenses, a summary of research findings, an assessment of strategy, strategic research and financial plans.
Proponents of I-181 argue that it will allow Montanans access to early treatment and clinical trials for brains diseases and injuries and mental illnesses, which is especially necessary for the population of aging citizens and veterans in Montana. They also argue that it will provide more opportunities for people to stay in Montana to work in science and medicine, creating high-paying jobs. Additionally, they claim that this is good time for the act, as bond interest rates are low.
Those who oppose the initiative are concerned about creating a new spending program while not creating revenue, and about funding research by creating debt, citing that the $200 million debt will have a payback of over $325 million over 20 years. They would prefer that the creation of state debt be reserved for spending on projects that create hard assets that are owned by the taxpayers. They also claim that approval for funding should go through the current legislative process rather than a ballot initiative, where the appropriation of funds would be balanced with other state spending obligations. Additionally, they are concerned that the is no legislative oversight for how the money is used and allocated by the committee once the program is started.
Initiative No. 177 (I-177) is the proposed “Montana Trap-Free Public Lands Act,” an act that prohibits the use of traps and snares for animal on any Montana public lands.
I-177 includes exceptions, allowing the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to use trapping to protect public health and safety, protect livestock and property and to conduct scientific and wildlife management activities if other, nonlethal methods have already been ineffectively tried.
Additionally, the act establishes misdemeanor criminal penalties for violations and prohibits the use of any part of an animal trapped on public lands. It would result in a $61,380 loss of trapping license revenue for the state and would also require additional funds for monitoring wolf populations and hiring more employees at the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
I-177 would not affect trapping on private property, which accounts for two-thirds of Montana’s land, nor would it affect hunting and fishing. It would be effective immediately if passed.
Those who support I-177 argue that it will eliminate danger to people, pets and wildlife on public lands caused by traps, which can legally be set 50 feet from trails, 30 feet from roads and on the banks of waterways. Additional concern about trapping arises because it is unlimited for most species, with quotas only for bobcats, otter, fisher fox and swift fox in Montana, allowing large populations of some species to be killed. Traps attract all animals — including rare and protected species.
I-177 proponents are also concerned for animal welfare, recognizing that being caught in a trap is a traumatic experience for animals. Animals caught in traps can suffer for days before dying or being found, and one in four animals chews their leg off out of panic when trapped.
Opponents of I-177 argue that trapping is one of the most effective ways to control wolves, coyotes and other predators to protect elk, deer and livestock. They claim that without trapping on public lands, there would be an increased risk of diseases such as plague and rabies, as well as an increase in attacks on people.
They also are concerned that the act will cost the state at least $422,000 to do what trappers currently buy licenses to do. Some argue that trapping is a tradition, and that I-177 is a step by animal rights activists who have an agenda to ban all hunting and fishing.
The law and justice ballot issue entails a county bond election and a mill levy for voters living within city limits of Bozeman. Those living in the county, but not in the city limits, will vote solely on the bond election. The $68.3 million ballot issue is for a proposed law and justice center, which would cost a total of $71.5 million. The cost of the project is split 70-30 between the county and the city respectively. Broken down, $50 million would be split among property owners both inside and outside of Bozeman city limits and taxpayers would pay for the remaining $21.5 million of the cost.
The proposed plan would include two structures that, combined, would be 187,300 square feet, noticeably bigger than the current center at 59,000 square feet. The law enforcement building would be 61,300 square feet and the courts building would be 126,000 square feet. The buildings would be built around the current law and justice center, but the current center would remain in-use until construction on the new buildings are finished so employees have a place to work at all times.
The current law and justice center has been described by proponents as outdated, unsafe and too small for the current workforce. Built in 1961 as a Catholic high school, it was repurposed in the late 70s to serve as the law and justice center. There have been concerns about security, as the building makes it difficult to keep the public separated from inmates, victims from perpetrators, and witnesses from alleged criminals. It also has caused concerns about privacy as there are so few spaces for private conversations, which could potentially affect trials. Lastly, it has raised concerns about insufficient storage space for records, as the center has to hold hard files for 75 years and they are running out of remaining storage space.
The proposed law enforcement building would house Gallatin County Sheriff Office as well as the Bozeman Police Department, and evidence and records. The SWAT team and regional drug task force would also take residence in the building.
The court building would house a variety of departments: Gallatin County Justice Court, Gallatin County District Court, Bozeman municipal court, county attorney’s office, city attorney’s, victim services, and youth probation officers.
Proponents have claimed that renovating the current building would not be a cost-effective solution as the current building has several issues, such as its ability to survive an earthquake, and fixing such issues would cost substantial amounts of money.
Some voters might remember a similar ballot initiative in 2014, when a proposal for a new justice center off North Rouse Avenue failed. The bond was for $23.8 million to build a city-only police and courts building.
CI-116: Marsy’s Law for Montana
One constitutional change will be on the Montana ballot this year. Constitutional Initiative No. 116 (CI-116), also known as Marsy’s Law for Montana, would add a new section to Article II of the Montana Constitution. The initiative aims “to preserve and protect a crime victim’s right to justice, to ensure a crime victim has a meaningful role in criminal and juvenile justice systems and to ensure that a crime victims’ rights and interests are respected and protected by law in a manner no less vigorous than the protections afforded to a criminal defendant and a delinquent youth.”
CI-116 defines a victim as: “a person who suffers direct or threatened physical, psychological or financial harm as a result of the commission or attempted commission of a crime.” The initiative aims to establish specific rights for crime victims, such as the right to participate in criminal and juvenile justice proceedings and to “be free from intimidation, harassment and abuse.” The victim also has the right to be notified of major developments in the criminal case, to privacy and to refuse an interview or other interactions
Montana is one of eighteen states without constitutional protection for crime victims, and proponents of CI-116 argue that this amendment establishes necessary victim’s rights equal to those of the accused. They claim that with this law in place, the justice system would operate more with the victim in mind.
Opponents of the initiative argue that Montana already provides services and protection for victims, and that CI-116 would interfere with systems already in place. In 1985, the state passed the Treatment of Victims Act, and opponents of the constitutional initiative would rather see improvement to this law than changes to the constitution. They argue that the new victims’ rights conflict with defendants’ rights, creating delays and uncertainty in the justice system. They claim that the change would not be good for Montana because it is backed by a businessman from California and services would be cut or taxes would be raised in order to pay for additional staffing necessary and for expenditures by the Department of Corrections.
CI-116 will become effective immediately if passed.
Initiative No. 182 (I-182) is on the ballot after its supporters obtained the required 24,175 signatures to place the initiative. If made law, I-182 would rename the existing Montana Marijuana Act to the Montana Medical Marijuana Act and would amend the Act. Voters in Montana first voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2004. The Montana Legislature amended the law via Senate Bill 423 in 2011. SB-423 made advertising marijuana illegal, limited medical marijuana providers to three patients and required the state to review physicians who prescribed to more than 25 people per year.
SB-423 was made effective on Aug. 31, 2016, after five years of entanglement in the courts. As a result of SB-423’s passage and implementation, the number of legal medical marijuana users and providers has fallen. I-182 seeks to amend SB-423. If passed, I-182 would allow a single treating physician to certify medical marijuana for patients diagnosed with chronic pain and includes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a “debilitating medical condition” for which a physician may certify medical marijuana. Licensing requirements, fees and prohibitions are detailed for medical marijuana dispensaries and testing laboratories.
I-182 would repeal the limit of three patients for each licensed provider, and allow providers to hire employees to cultivate, dispense and transport medical marijuana. I-182 would repeal the requirement that physicians who provide certifications for 25 or more patients annually be referred to the board of medical examiners. I-182 would remove the authority of law enforcement to conduct unannounced inspections of medical marijuana facilities and require annual inspections by the State.
If successful, portions of I-182 would become effective immediately. The initiative would become effective in its entirety on June 30, 2017.