COVID-19 Creates Petitioning Challenges for Montana Seniors

Initiative 187
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By SU DeBREE, MARY CATHERINE DUNPHY, RUSS DOTY, and DODIE ANDERSEN

Local non-profit group Montana Community Affordable Renewable Energy Saves (MTCARES) has been working to move Montana forward in the development of affordable renewable energy with Initiative 187, which would revise Montana’s energy and taxation law.

When the Coronavirus shut down the state, however, the group had collected only about half of the 25,468 signatures required to get the initiative on the November ballot.

This caused a big problem for organizers, since many MTCARES volunteers are senior citizens, the demographic most vulnerable to the virus. It was no longer safe for them to collect signatures in public places.

Concerned they wouldn’t get enough signatures because of the lockdown, they petitioned the Secretary of State’s office to change from requiring notarized affidavits when submitting signature petitions to personal statements under penalty of perjury.

After a few weeks, the SOS officials granted a declaratory decision allowing Montana’s registered voters to sign their own copy of the petition and get other voters they have safe contact with to sign. They just would need to complete a declaration page confirming the signatures under penalty of perjury. Finally, signature gatherers could send the original copies of the petition, along with the declaration, to their local county election office.

MTCARES began addressing Montana’s legislature a few years ago to advocate their cause. They have since grown into a fellowship of common citizens concerned about Earth’s future and lack of legislative action. Lawyers who were MTCARES members drafted I-187 for the upcoming election.

If passed, the initiative would establish a cohesive renewable energy policy that funds fossil fuel and railroad worker retraining and pension security.

It would compensate for loss of coal tax revenue and sets clear goals for shifting to renewable energy in Montana…80 percent by 2034 for investor-owned utilities or even higher for communities that want their utilities to do more.

Features of the initiative include a proposal to double the amount of solar capacity that homes and businesses may have. The current limit on renewable capacity on schools, government buildings, churches, and non-profit organizations will increase five-fold.

I-187 also allows neighborhood renewable energy facilities. Extra energy credits that used to be forfeited to utility companies could be credited to help low income customers reduce their energy bills.

MTCARES has information about the initiative on their website, mtcares.org. From there, Montana residents can download the necessary forms for submitting registered voter signatures in support of I-187.

For MTCARES organizers, time is of the essence. Montanans currently have until June 19 at 5:00 p.m. to get signatures of registered voters along with the declaration page to their county’s election office.

The MTCARES team has asked everyone to share this information with everyone they know and get them to share with everyone they know.

They urge Montana residents to take power into their own hands, and exercise their First Amendment right to petition their government. MSN

For more information on MTCares, visit their website, www.mtcares.org. Also find the Petition and Declaration to Submit in the MTCARES ad on page 12-13.

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