- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The Latest on how Montana will fill the vacancy left by U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke’s nomination as Interior Department Secretary (all times local):

3:55 p.m.

The sponsor of a 2015 bill that changed how Montana fills its U.S. House and Senate vacancies says Gov. Steve Bullock should appoint an interim replacement for departing Rep. Ryan Zinke until a special election is held.

Democratic Sen. Brad Hamlett said Thursday it is critical that Montana is represented in Congress during the 85- to 100-day period before a special election can be held.

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and political observers say the U.S. Constitution allows only for the appointment of an interim senator, and not an interim representative.

Hamlett disputes that, saying his bill allowing interim appointments went through legal reviews in the Legislature and by Bullock before the governor signed it.

The senator says that until the U.S. Supreme Court rules Montana can’t appoint an interim representative, Bullock should follow the state law.

11:05 a.m.

Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke’s decision to join President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet has exposed a potential constitutional flaw in the first test of a new state law on filling vacancies in the U.S. House and Senate.

The law calls for a special election to be held between 85 and 100 days of a vacancy. It also gives the governor the option of temporarily appointing a replacement who would serve until the election results are certified.

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, citing a 2003 Congressional Research Service memo, says the U.S. Constitution allows only for the appointment of an interim senator, and not for an interim representative.

The bill that passed in 2015 had only three dissenting votes out of 150 Montana representatives and senators, and it was signed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.

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