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Gazette State Bureau

HELENA - The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a challenge to the state's term limits on grounds that those challenging the 1992 voter-adopted constitutional amendment waited too long to file a case.

"There must be a point at which a claim asserting that Montana voters failed to follow the proper procedures in enacting a constitutional initiative simply comes too late," wrote Justice James Nelson for the court. "We have reached that point."

The court rejected the challenge without specifically addressing the merits of the claims raised by the attorneys for those challenging term limits, Sens. Mack Cole, R-Hysham, and B.F. "Chris" Christiaens, D-Great Falls. Cole and Christiaens are prevented from seeking another Senate term.

Five other justices signed Nelson's decision.

"Nevertheless, the voters still retain the right to repeal the term limits initiative via the same process by which they adopted the initiative in the first place," Nelson wrote. "Similarly, the Legislature may still seek to repeal the term limits initiative by adopting and submitting a referendum to the voters."

The seventh justice, Terry Trieweiler, agreed with the decision to deny the relief but dissented from the majority's decision to permanently bar a challenge to the procedure by which the term limits constitutional initiative was enacted.

Montana voters in 1992 approved Constitutional Initiative 64 by a 67 to 33 percent margin. It prevents state executive branch officials - the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state auditor, attorney general and superintendent of public instruction - from serving in an office for more than eight years in a 16-year period. Legislators face the same restriction, although they are free to run for the other chamber once they are term-limited in one chamber.

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