- Associated Press - Friday, March 3, 2017

Havre Daily News, Feb. 24, on state GOP chair’s opposition to mail-in ballot for special election:

One week after Rep. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, the state Republican Party chair, apologized to Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, for official GOP Facebook and Twitter posts insulting the freshman legislator, Essmann now has irritated some officials from his own party.

Essmann issued an “Emergency Chairman’s Report” last week saying that, somehow, getting more people voting by using a mail ballot in a special election for Congress would favor Democrats - so Republicans should contact their legislators and tell them to vote against it.

Four Republican county clerks and commissioners, including Liberty County Clerk and Recorder and Election Administrator Angel Colbry, quickly issued an “Immediate Press Release” repudiating Essmann’s report.

“I am so angry about this statement,” Colbry said in the release. “To suggest that we forego tremendous cost savings in order to stifle turn-out is an irresponsible statement. That’s not who we are as Republicans.”

Colbry has reason to be angry.

Essmann says that Democrats have an advantage because they are better at organizing people “to gather ballots by going door to door.” Whatever that means.

He also says the Democrats raise and spend more money in Montana, giving them an advantage specifically, somehow, in mail ballots.

The mail ballot process, Essmann says, “is designed to increase participation of lower propensity voters” - to get more people out to vote. That, he says, favors Democrats.

He adds that the bill could allow use of alternate voting offices on Indian reservations, getting more people on reservations to vote. That is a “Democrat advantage,” he writes, and should be opposed.

So Essmann seems primarily to be opposed to holding a less-expensive election that encourages more people to vote.

His warning also seems to contradict his party’s stance on years of support for measures such as limiting late registration, more stringent voter identification requirements, and so on. The GOP has said the purpose of such legislation is to restrict voter fraud, not to suppress the vote.

What Essmann says is getting ballots to “lower propensity voters” favors Democrats and should be opposed.

His stance that getting more people out to vote favors Democrats also seems contradictory.

Montana has voted Republican in most presidential elections for decades, regularly elects Republican members of Congress and governors - Republicans held the Montana governor’s office for 20 years straight before Brian Schweitzer was elected - last election picked Republicans for four of the five state offices and has elected Republicans to the majority in both houses of the state Legislature for all but three of the last 12 sessions, since 1995.

Montana typically is called a red state. Logic would dictate that if the state has more Republicans, getting more people out to vote would favor Republicans.

Essmann’s “logic” finds otherwise.

Montana clerks and recorders - from both parties - have been lobbying for years to switch all of Montana’s elections to mail ballots, as is done in Colorado, Washington and Oregon. They cite incredibly higher voter turnout in mail elections, lower costs, difficulties finding enough judges to work the polls and declining numbers of voters at the polls - as more and more people switch to absentee voting - as some reasons for the change. The Montana election officials have yet to succeed.

The effort this year is different, just to allow mail ballots in one special election in an effort to save thousands of dollars, dollars that potentially could put some counties into the red if they have to hire judges and open polling places.

But Essmann warns that the victory Democrats could win in this special election could help them push mail ballots through for every election, giving them an advantage in Montana - by more people voting. Republicans should oppose that, he says.

The purpose of a democracy is to give people a chance to have a say in their government. The more people who vote, the better the democracy. Essmann is saying people should be opposed to that.

Essmann’s “Emergency Chairman’s Report” is not just an insult to Republicans, it is an attack on democracy.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2lTp3oV

___

The Bozeman Chronicle, Feb. 28, on bringing Utah’s outdoor retailer show to Montana:

Gov. Steve Bullock is commended for his ambitious effort to get the Outdoor Industry Association to move its twice-yearly trade show to Montana.

The OIA has been holding these events in Utah for the last 20 years. But the organization, along with some of its high-profile members - such as Patagonia, North Face and REI - are pulling out of that state in response to elected officials’ efforts to transfer federal public land over to state control. Those efforts are widely regarded as prelude to transferring some of those lands to private owners.

OIA trade shows are said to attract 50,000 visitors and $45 million annually. That would be a major boost to the state’s economy. Although that many visitors would be a stretch for the state’s tourist and convention accommodations, if the events were spread over multiple venues, they could perhaps find a place here.

With competition coming from more populated states like Colorado and Oregon, getting the trade show to relocate here may be a long shot. But Bullock’s outreach to the organization and its members will at least get Montana on their radar as a possible site for smaller expositions and even as a location for expanding their manufacturing businesses.

The organization’s exodus from Utah should serve as a cautionary tale to any elected officials who support the transfer of control over federal lands to the states. Westerners - Montanans included - have made it clear they do not want the states to take over federal lands.

The OIA announced plans to move the show after Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced legislation that would directed the secretary of the interior to sell off more than 3 million acres of federal lands in 10 Western states - including Montana. Chaffetz withdrew the bill following a public outcry. But the association had had enough.

Our public lands are near and dear to all of us. They are part of our lifestyles and a primary reason why many of us have chosen to live here. And keeping them in federal hands is regarded by most as the best way to ensure they remain accessible to the public.

Politicians should keep that in mind before suggesting a change in ownership in those lands.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2maeh0p

___

The Missoulian, Feb. 26, on rights for victims:

Last November, Montanans voted to amend the state Constitution - a monumental change that has yet to receive commensurate attention in the state Legislature.

According to the official election results, a whopping 66 percent of voters supported Constitutional Initiative 116, known as Marsy’s Law. The result is that a whole new section is being added to the Declaration of Rights in Montana’s Constitution that enumerates 18 specific rights for the victims of crime.

Many of these rights were already routinely acknowledged and respected by Montana’s county attorneys and courts, such as taking into consideration “the victim’s safety and welfare . when setting bail and making release decisions.” Others may cause conflicts with the rights of those accused of crimes, such as the victims’ “right to refuse an interview, deposition, or other discovery request.” And still others may cause a host of as-yet-unknown headaches for those who will now be held responsible both for preventing the disclosure of certain information and for ensuring that victims are kept properly informed before, during and even after trial.

Given the scale and potential expense of anticipated problems, it is concerning that only two proposals to assuage the impacts of Marsy’s Law are being considered this legislative session. One, requested by Bozeman Republican Rep. Kerry White to generally “revise laws implementing Marsy’s Law,” is still in the drafting stage.

The other aims to provide some measure of protection for government officials who may be accused of violating the new law. Last week, law enforcement officials and prosecutors flocked to a hearing in Helena to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee that the fix in Senate Bill 250 is necessary. The committee voted the same day, 11-0, to pass the measure that would offer immunity from certain legal accusations for prosecutors, law enforcement officers and local governments, and “absolute immunity for prosecutors for claims arising out of” alleged violations of victims’ rights.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Nels Swandal, a Republican from Wilsall and retired Sixth Judicial District judge. Tellingly, his bill has support from the sponsor of the Marsy’s Law initiative, Chuck Denowh, who told the Associated Press that the law was never intended to target law enforcement officials. Unfortunately, it has other unintended problems.

Since CI-116 was passed, counties across Montana have been hustling to figure out whether their current practices and policies comply with the new law, and if not, how to go about achieving compliance without busting already strained budgets.

Fortunately, they were given a little more time to get squared away. Although the ballot language called for the law to become effective immediately upon passage, counties across the state breathed a sigh of relief when the Montana Supreme Court unanimously determined that implementation should be delayed until July 1.

The drawback to the delay, however, is that counties still won’t know exactly what effects the law will have, or how much it might cost to comply with the new law, long after the Legislature has adjourned.

The worry among many city and county law enforcement officials is that certain provisions of the law may eat up a significant chunk of limited time and resources. The definition of “victim,” for instance, is astoundingly broad, and may include anyone “who suffers direct or threatened physical, psychological, or financial harm as a result of the commission or attempted commission of a crime.” ”Crime,” too, is defined broadly as a “felony, misdemeanor, or delinquency under state law.”

And all these victims are entitled to:

-be informed of clemency and expungement procedures; to provide information to the governor, the court, any clemency board, or any other authority and to have that information considered before a decision is made; and to be notified of any decision before the release of the offender

-be informed of conviction, sentence, adjudication, place and time of incarceration, or other disposition of the offender, including any scheduled release date, actual release date, or escape;

receive reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of and to be present at all proceedings involving the criminal conduct, plea, sentencing, adjudication, disposition, release, or escape of the defendant or youth accused of delinquency and any proceeding implicating the rights of the victim;

-be promptly notified of any release or escape of the accused;

-be heard in any proceeding involving the release, plea, sentencing, disposition, adjudication, or parole of the defendant or youth accused of delinquency and any proceeding implicating the rights of the victim.

And much more. And this at a time when cities and counties are struggling under increased caseloads, largely stemming from the recent rise in child abuse and neglect, and related drug cases.

Meanwhile, the Montana Department of Corrections is also looking into how to comply with the mandatory notification requirements of Marsy’s Law. It already has notification systems in place for parole hearings, and at last count there were more than 3,000 registered victims, according to the department’s 2017 biennial report.

The Victim Information and Notification Everyday system, which is voluntary and provides basic updates upon request, managed 20,820 email events, 4,820 text events, 4,635 phone events and 109,077 total phone calls in 2015. Yet even this system, which costs more than $6,000 each month, falls short of compliance with Marsy’s Law.

For Montana’s counties and cities, the potential conflicts and costs have yet to be determined, but county prosecutors and law enforcement officials can give state legislators a rough idea of what to expect. Time is running out for legislators to do what they can to help them prepare.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2lvRwQI

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