HELENA – The Montana Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an attempt by opponents of Medicaid expansion and Attorney General Tim Fox to rewrite the language of a proposed ballot initiative and void all the signed petitions that backers have gathered to date.
The justices said in a unanimous decision that delaying signature-gathering for further court proceedings would have the effect of ruling for the plaintiffs because the sponsors have only until June 20 to gather 24,175 voter signatures to place Initiative 70 on November’s ballot.
“The fiscal statement now at issue was prepared by the attorney general with the benefit of public comment, though it does not appear that petitioners availed themselves of this early comment opportunity,” the order by Chief Justice Mike McGrath said.
Initiative sponsor Kim Abbott said backers have gathered more than 2,000 signatures to date, with 50 volunteers gathering more.
Under the proposal, federal money available through the nation’s health care law would be used to expand Medicaid to people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. An analysis prepared by the governor’s office estimates nearly 56,000 in the state would enroll in 2016, which would increase to as many as 80,000 people by 2019.
Attorney General Tim Fox and initiative opponents had sought a court order to revise the proposal’s fiscal statement, which the attorney general’s office previously approved. They argued the statement presented a misleading account of the measure’s estimated costs by wrongly including $100 million in federal revenue unrelated to the initiative.
Gov. Steve Bullock disagreed. The initiative creates a special account for all federal funding for medical care, and the fiscal note must include it, he said in a court filing.