Kendall Cotton: Eroding Montana’s Constitution

Shortly after celebrating the 50 year anniversary of Montana’s Constitution, a proposed ballot measure appears to be an attempt to cast it aside.

Backers of I-191 seek voter approval to designate the Gallatin and Madison River watersheds as Outstanding Resource Waters (ORW), a protected status only found in national parks and wilderness. In doing so, I-191 circumvents the economic protections afforded to Montanans by our Constitution and sets a dangerous precedent for the future.

While legislative bodies have authority to levy taxes and appropriate new spending, regulators can also “spend” taxpayer dollars by imposing regulations that cost property owners dearly to comply with. Montana’s Constitution accounts for this by guaranteeing property owners the due process of law in regulatory proceedings and just compensation before a “regulatory taking”— when government actions result in the owner’s property interest being taken or damaged.

Thanks to these important protections, Montana state agencies have rigorous processes in place to afford due process and ensure policy decisions are constitutionally and economically sound. For instance, the law requires all state agencies to conduct a thorough assessment of how each regulation impacts property owners prior to implementation.

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