Montana Gov. Steve Bullock vetoes bills from guns to taxes with two-thirds of session done

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HELENA, Montana — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has vetoed six bills from the Republican-controlled Legislature with two-thirds of the session complete.

His rejections of measures from guns to taxes put him right on track with last session, but as that legislative term went on Bullock picked up the pace. By the time it was over, he had vetoed 71 bills, a number that was second only to Gov. Brian Schweitzer's 78 rejections in 2011.

It's impossible to forecast how many bills the Democratic governor will turn away this session, but the number will likely increase, since the majority of vetoes typically come in the last two weeks of a session and the days following adjournment.

Last time around, 33 of the bills Bullock vetoed were sent to him after the Legislature wrapped.

By Thursday, Bullock had nixed two gun deregulations, an income tax cut, a change to renewable energy standards, business impact reports and a bill that would have eliminated the ability of local governments to set minimum wages.

The governor last week offered amendments to a proposal that reached his desk allowing hunters to muffle the sound of their weapons. The move was a shift of his 2013 stance, when he rejected two bills that would have allowed sound suppressors.

"It is clear to me that the public understanding and perception of suppressors has changed," Bullock wrote.

Two years ago, the he stated in veto letters that landowners would prefer to hear weapons fired on or near their property.

But the letter Friday explaining his suggested revision stated it was time for Montana to join the clear majority of states that allow sound suppressors. Bullock suggested lawmakers amend the bill to apply to the hunting of any wildlife, not just animals that aren't protected by state or federal law.

"I understand the concerns regarding the risks of increased poaching and do not take this lightly, but other states have not found this to be the case," Bullock wrote.

He went on to say that no private landowners opposed the bill this session.

The suggestion came on the same day he turned back two bills that would have nullified firearm laws. One measure would have instructed Montana authorities to disregard future federal gun laws. The other would have done away with the state's concealed-carry permitting system. He vetoed two nearly identical bills in 2013.

Bullock also has vetoed a bill that would have included vintage hydropower as eligible for Montana's renewable energy standards. Such a move, he said, would undercut the incentive for renewable projects to enter the state. He vetoed a similar proposal from the same sponsor, Sen. Debby Barrett of Dillon, last session.

The governor also shot down a bill from Rep. Kirk Wagoner, R-Montana City, that would have required legislative proposals to include business impact statements. He stopped similar legislation from Wagoner in 2013.

Another bill he blocked would have prohibited local governments from enacting their own minimum wages. Bullock said no city in Montana has yet attempted such a move, but he couldn't support a bill to remove that option.

And Bullock's first veto this session was a proposal from Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, to cut every income tax bracket by 0.2 percent. He said the bill was fiscally irresponsible considering it was suggested before a revenue estimate had been agreed upon. Bullock vetoed three tax cuts last session.

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