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Montanans Against Tax Hikes v. State

Supreme Court of Montana

August 15, 2018

MONTANANS AGAINST TAX HIKES, a Political Committee, CHARLES DENOWH, Individually and as Political Committee Treasurer, Petitioner,
v.
STATE OF MONTANA, by and through TIMOTHY C. FOX, in his capacity as Attorney General; and COREY STAPLETON, in his capacity as Secretary of State Respondent.

          Ballot Initiative 185

          For Petitioner: William W. Mercer, Brianne C. McClafferty, Holland & Hart LLP, Billings, Montana

          For Respondent: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Jon Bennion, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Helena, Montana

          For Amicus Curiae: James P. Molloy, Gallik, Bremer & Molloy, P.C., Bozeman, Montana Pam D. Bucy, Jessie L. Luther, Taylor Luther Group, PLLC, Helena, Montana

          MIKE MCGRATH, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         ¶1 Petitioners Montanans Against Tax Hikes, et al. have filed an original action with this Court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to determine whether the ballot statement of proposed Initiative 185 meets the requirements of § 13-27-312, MCA. The State of Montana, by and through Attorney General Timothy C. Fox, has filed a response, and the proponents of I-185, Healthy Montana for I-185, the Montana Hospital Association, and the Montana Primary Care Association have filed an amicus brief opposing the petition.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 The Constitution of the State of Montana authorizes the people of this state to enact laws by initiative on all matters except appropriations of money and local or special laws. Mont. Const, art III, § 4(1). Petitions for initiative, accompanied by a draft ballot issue statement of up to 135 words, are initially prepared by the initiative's proponents and submitted to the Secretary of State. Sections 13-27-201, -202(1), MCA. After review, the Secretary of State refers the ballot statement to the Attorney General for determination of legal sufficiency and approval, and for a determination of whether a fiscal note is necessary. Section 13-27-202(4), MCA.

         ¶3 An original proceeding in this Court is the exclusive remedy for a challenge to the ballot statements approved by the Attorney General. Section 13-27-316(5), MCA. Opponents of a ballot issue have ten days from the date of certification by the Secretary of State to the Governor to file an action and request the Court alter the ballot statement as approved by the Attorney General. Section 13-27-316(2), MCA. Petitioners herein have satisfied the filing requirements of Montana law.

         ¶4 Prior to circulation, proposed Initiative 185 was referred by the Secretary of State to the Attorney General for a legal sufficiency review pursuant to § 13-27-312, MCA. The Attorney General issued a fiscal statement and provided notice that the initiative was legally sufficient. The Petition was approved for signature gathering as of April 16, 2018. Petitions, each containing the ballot issue statement as approved by the Attorney General, were circulated throughout the State and were signed by the requisite number of registered voters. On July 26, 2018, the Secretary of State certified to the Governor that I-185 had been officially filed, having received a sufficient number of signatures.

         ¶5 The ballot language approved by the Attorney General for I-185, including the statement of purpose and statements of implication, reads as follows:

INITIATIVE NO. 185
A LAW PROPOSED BY INITIATIVE PETITION
I-185 raises taxes on all tobacco products, amends the definition to include e-cigarettes and vaping products, and dedicates funds. Taxes are increased by $2.00 per pack of cigarettes for a total tax of $3.70 per pack. Taxes on moist snuff increase to the greater of 83% of wholesale or $3.70 per 1.2 ounces. The tax rate increases by 33% of the wholesale price for all other tobacco products including new taxes on e-cigarettes and vaping products. 1-185 eliminates the sunset date for expanded Medicaid services for certain low-income adults, which otherwise ends June 30, 2019. 1-185 dedicates a percentage of these increased tax revenues for: certain health-related programs, including some of the costs for ...

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