- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana’s governor would lose the power to fill U.S. Senate vacancies under legislation being considered by lawmakers for the third time.

Sen. Tom Facey introduced Senate Bill 73 on Wednesday in the State Administration Committee. The Missoula Democrat said the bill would give Montanans the same rights to elect a U.S. senator as they have to elect a U.S. House representative in the event of a vacancy.

“It would allow people in Montana to have their voices heard,” he said.

Under the measure, Montana voters would choose a U.S. senator in a special election within about three months of a vacancy. The election also could be rolled in with a federal primary or general election if the vacancy happened around that time.

The bill comes before the Legislature this time after Gov. Steve Bullock appointed John Walsh to a U.S. Senate seat in February. He made the appointment after Max Baucus resigned to become ambassador to China. That gave Walsh the power of incumbency as he campaigned for the seat in the general election.

Walsh dropped the campaign in August, however, after The New York Times published a story showing he plagiarized parts of a paper required for his master’s degree.

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, who has lobbied for the bill all three times, said it may have a better chance to pass this session with the Walsh appointment fresh in people’s minds. No one spoke in opposition to the bill.

“I have never believed that politicians should be put in the position to have to choose politicians to represent Montana in Congress - regardless of whether the selected replacement will serve for one day or for one year,” she said.

A similar ballot measure failed to gather enough signatures to make it onto the November general election ballot.

The U.S. Constitution gives states the ability to choose how to fill vacancies in the U.S. Senate, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Four states prohibit the governor from making an interim U.S. Senate appointment, requiring instead that the seat remain vacant until a regular or special election is held.

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