HELENA, Mont. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana and representatives of city and county governments on Friday asked the state Supreme Court to declare that a voter-passed initiative establishing crime victims’ rights should not go into effect until July 1.
And hours later, the Supreme Court issued an order saying the secretary of state could not declare an effective date for Constitutional Initiative 116 until further order from the court. The court gave the state, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and Attorney General Tim Fox 14 days to file a response to the petition.
Montana’s Constitution states that amendments approved by voters take effect on the July 1 after they are passed, unless the proposed amendment provides otherwise. In this case, the amendment language did not offer an effective date, the petition states.
However, the ballot explanation for Constitution Initiative 116 approved by the attorney general’s office and included in the voter information pamphlet said the initiative known as Marsy’s Law would become effective immediately.
The amendment creates several rights for crime victims, including the right to participate in court proceedings, the right to be notified of major developments in a criminal case or when an offender is released from custody or escapes, and to provide input to a prosecutor before a plea agreement is finalized.
The ACLU petition argues that Fox, in writing the voter pamphlet information, misinterpreted a section that said the amendment is “self-executing” to mean it would take effect after voters passed it.
The initiative language specifically states that it is self-executing “and requires no further action by the Legislature,” the ACLU of Montana, the Montana Association of counties, the Montana League of Cities and Towns and the Montana County Attorneys Association argued.
If those proposing the amendment wanted a different effective date than what is required under the state constitution “they could have, and presumably, would have specified that alternative date” in the amendment language, the petitioners argued.
The ACLU asked the Supreme Court to rule quickly, saying it believed McCulloch would certify the passage of the initiative on Monday with an immediate effective date. The petition argues local governments need time to establish and fund crime victim rights efforts or face complaints that they are violating crime victims’ constitutional rights.
Emily Dean, a spokeswoman for McCulloch, said a claim by the ACLU that that McCulloch “improperly” rejected decisions by the Board of Canvassers on Thursday and Friday to certify the initiative with a July 1 effective date are wrong. McCulloch said the board has no legal authority to change the effective date of an initiative, Dean said.
Eric Sell, a spokesman for Fox, said the attorney general had not seen the petition Friday afternoon and could not comment.
McCulloch has called the Board of Canvassers to meet again Monday at 10 a.m. The board includes State Auditor Monica Lindeen, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, and Fox. Lindeen and Juneau have said they believe the initiative should take effect on July 1.
The crime victim’s law is the second Montana ballot measure to face issues with an effective date.
Initiative 182, which expanded access to medical marijuana, included an effective date of June 30, 2017 for some sections.
Medical marijuana advocates and patients are asking a judge to fix what they say was a mistake that inadvertently delayed the re-opening of medical marijuana dispensaries by eight months.
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