The Butchers’ overhaul of the initiative process elicits — or deserves — little interest

by Jay Stevens 

Look who’s proposing legislation to overhaul the initiative process: old friends Ed and Trevis Butcher!

Trevis, of course, was the Montana money handler for Howie Rich’s terrible trio of initiatives: 154, 97, and 98. Trevis is also a good pal of the Republican Liberty Caucus sweethearts. The initiatives were, of course, struck down for the pervasive fraud found to mar the signature gathering.

Representative Ed Butcher (R-Winifred) is Trevis’ daddy.

The Butcher Bill (HB 777) — one of the worst-written bills I’ve seen, BTW – allows grievances to bypass many of the offices Howie Rich’s bills got caught up in (such as the Attorney General’s office or the district courts). The bill also targets volunteer signature gathers to extra scrutiny (in one line, considering a volunteer’s work to be a “campaign contribution”). (And in one section hints that blog entries on behalf of candidates could be considered “campaign contributions”!)

Basically the bill does two things: it makes it easier to challenge a petition, but almost impossible to get it off the ballot. And it seeks to exclude or punish all those who either opposed or worked against Rich’s initiatives.

The good news is that this bill probably isn’t leaving committee:

A proposal to overhaul the state’s ballot initiative process didn’t excite much interest on the part of the House State Administration Committee on Thursday morning.

Committee members had no questions for Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, the sponsor of House Bill 777, and the only comments from committee Chairman Dennis Himmelberger, R-Billings, were to urge Butcher, several times, to be more concise.

And the only people who spoke in support of the bill were Butcher’s son, conservative activist Trevis Butcher of Winifred, and Helena attorney Chris Gallus.

And better yet, there is a bipartisan bill that’s more likely to see its way past the legislature that would make good and needed change to the initiative process:

Six people spoke against the bill, led off by Assistant Attorney General Pam Bucy, who said the legislation was rife with problematic language and legal pitfalls. She, and most of the other opponents, urged the committee to give its support instead to Senate Bill 96, which was drafted with the concurrence of the Justice Department and the secretary of state.

SB96, introduced by Sen. Carol Williams, D-Missoula, would prohibit paying signature-gatherers on a per-signature basis and would require the gatherers to be residents of Montana. The bill would also seek to simplify and streamline other aspects of the initiative process.

A member of the House State Administration Committee, Rep. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, intends to sponsor Williams’ bill in the House.

In other words, good stuff. A bill that, in a reasonable world, would be passed without much of a fuss. But then, this year in the House, all bets are off.

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