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Ballot Measure Deja Vu for Montana



December 30, 2009

HELENA, Mont. - The New Year is bringing something not-so-new to Montana. A ballot initiative called I-162 is being promoted as a "private property rights protection" measure. It would allow landowners to sue local governments if they feel the value of their property is hurt by government decisions such as land use planning or hunting- and fishery-related management. The initiative's language is similar to the I-154 measure thrown out in the last election because of fraud.

Mark Aagenes, conservation director with Montana Trout Unlimited, says if this new version passes, it will be the most expensive ballot initiative in state history, as big companies and some aggressive developers would start rolling out lawsuits.

"The fiscal note is dramatic: This is going to cost Montanans anywhere between $600 million and $5 billion."

The state budget director says $600 million is a conservative estimate. A similar measure passed in Oregon has resulted in more than 6,000 claims asking for $20 billion - a number Aagenes says could easily be reached in Montana. The ballot measure has been cleared for signature gathering by the Secretary of State.

Beyond the money concerns, Aagenes says such a law would hinder state management of hunting and fisheries because agencies would be likely to curtail their programs in fear of lawsuits expensive for taxpayers.

"It's very important to me that Fish, Wildlife and Parks manages our game and fish so that I can fish today and I can fish 20 years from now, also."

The ballot measure is available at http://sos.mt.gov/elections/archives/2010s/2010/initiatives/I-162.asp.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT