3 ballot issues qualify for fall ballot

2010-07-19T17:23:00Z 2010-10-19T11:57:18Z 3 ballot issues qualify for fall ballotCHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette

HELENA — Three ballot measures will appear on the November ballot, while eight others failed to muster the necessary signatures, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said Monday.

The measures that qualified, if approved, would prohibit state and local governments from imposing new taxes on real estate transactions, end guaranteed hunting licenses for outfitters and cap interest rates that payday and title loan businesses can charge consumers.

Among those that failed to qualify were high-profile measures that would have essentially banned abortion in Montana and outlawed commercial trapping on Montana public lands. An 11th-hour attempt to ban medical marijuana in Montana also failed.

McCulloch said only three of the 26 ballot issues proposed ultimately qualified for the ballot. In all, 11 proposals were cleared by state officials for signature-gathering, but many were never pursued by their sponsors.

Joining the three infinitives on the ballot is a referendum on whether to call a constitutional convention to revise or rewrite Montana’s constitution. The current constitution, passed in 1972, requires such a vote every 20 years.

Here’s a look at the ones that qualified, with comments from backers and, in some, cases opponents:

n Constitutional Initiative 105, sponsored by the Montana Association of Realtors, which would prohibit state and local governments from imposing a new tax on the sale or transfer of real estate.

As of Monday, it had received about 3,000 more signatures than needed and qualified in 17 more House districts than needed.

“Montanans already pay property taxes, and they shouldn’t have to pay an additional tax on that same property when they go to sell it or pass it on to their kids,” said Chuck Denowh, spokesman for the Coalition to Prevent Double Taxation.

n  Initiative 161, sponsored by Kurt Kephart of Billings, which would abolish outfitter-sponsored nonresident big game and deer combination hunting licenses. It collected about 3,000 more signatures and in three more House districts than needed.

“Going forward, it will probably be a battle of epic proportions,’ he said of the forthcoming campaign against the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, which opposes the measure.

“It’s David and Goliath. They’ve got the money and the power on their side, and we have everyday Montanans on our side.”

Mac Minard, executive director of the outfitters group, is looking at options and hasn’t decided whether to file a legal challenge over allegedly fraudulent signatures gathered by I-161 backers.

“We believe this was a campaign fraught with violations. Some of them were caught, and some probably weren’t,” he said.

Kephart defended the I-161 efforts, saying: “They don’t count bad signatures. The signatures that we have folks that were made up weren’t counted in the first place.”

n Initiative 164, sponsored by Cap the Rate, 400 Percent is Too High, would cap at 36 percent the annual interest, fees and charges that payday, title and retail installment lenders may charge on loans.

Backers collected about 2,000 more signatures and qualified in 20 more House districts than needed.

“Payday lenders are charging working Montana families and our seniors’ annual interest rates of 400 percent,” said the group’s treasurer, ex-Sen. Dan Harrington, D-Butte. “We believe 400 percent is too high and think Montana voters agree.”

But Bernie Harrington of Billings, secretary of the Coalition for Consumer Choice, which opposes I-164, disagreed.

“Ultimately, I don’t think that the proponents of I-164 clearly understand what kind of a negative impact this will have on the borrowers in the state of Montana,” he said.

The secretary of state’s office is still tabulating signatures, but none of the others will have enough to qualify.

Three other ballot measures that drew plenty of attention failed to qualify.

One was Constitutional Initiative 102, which sought to amend the constitution to define “person” as every human being from the beginning of that person’s biological development, effectively outlawing abortion. As of Monday, it was about 16,000 signatures and 23 House districts short of qualifying.

Dr. Annie Bukacek of Kalispell, I-102’s sponsor, vowed that the group will to try again in 2012 and that will start its signature gathering in June 2011.

“We have barely begun the fight for the rights and liberties of unborn babies, and we will keep working on it until their personhood is established in our Montana constitution,” she said.

However, Allyson Hagen, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Montana, interpreted its failure differently, saying: “The continued failure of this amendment should be a signal to elected officials in Montana that, when they vote to eliminate women’s privacy rights, they are voting against the values the vast majority of Montanans hold.”

Initiative 165, which would have repealed the state law legalizing medical marijuana, was about 10,000 signatures and 13 districts short, according to the latest figures from the secretary of state. Cherrie Brady, who led the effort as part of Safe Community, Safe Kids, said she expects the measure will wind up only 4,000 signatures and nine House districts short.

“I think it’s very clear what Montanans want when you can do that in seven days,” she said. “Had we had a few more days, we would have qualified it.”

She said the group will support the legislative repeal of the law. If lawmakers fail to do, she said, her group will be back with another initiative to repeal it and will get an earlier start.

An initiative that would would ban commercial trapping of mammals and birds on public lands in Montana, also failed to make the ballot. By Monday, it was about 4,000 signatures short and missed qualifying in two House districts.

“With our limited budget, I think it’s a huge success, and we’ll be back in 2012, said Anja Heister, executive director of Footloose Montana. “We are Montana grassroots without any out-of-state funding.”

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