Bison – and veto – both remain at large
Montana continues to wrangle with buffalo, with ranchers hoping for a positive outcome on deciding what, exactly, defines wild bison. An April 29 veto from Governor Steve Bullock that he put on a piece of legislation to further define wild bison is now in dispute. The Montana Secretary of State’s office has said the bill became law by default due to the governor’s office not delivering the veto within the legally required 10-day window.
HB 132, sponsored by Ken Holmlund of Miles City, would have tightened the classification of wild bison to those that have never been owned, paid a per capita livestock tax, or been in captivity. Currently bison in Montana can flux between the definition of wild and livestock with vague requirements. The 2019 legislative session saw extended back-and-forth on HB 132. The governor proposed watered down amendments that the legislative committee was not able to accept, according to Holmlund, resulting in a veto on the final bill.
An official letter from Governor Bullock’s office declaring and explaining the veto of HB 132 is dated April 29. According to the Montana constitution, the governor shall return a veto to the legislative body. However, if the legislature is not in session – and it adjourned April 25 – state law declares the governor must return the bill and reasons for the veto to the secretary of state. Stapleton’s office says this must be done within 10 days, and that his office did not receive the bill until May 22. Bullock claims that window of time is not legally required and the veto is compliant with the law.
Susan Ames, office manager for the Secretary of State said they will not have any updates on the status of the situation until they receive a court order. Governor Bullock’s office was unavailable for comment. The situation will likely be resolve in court, with the true issue – the definition of bison as wild or livestock – still on the loose.
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