By Derf Johnson
MEIC frequently uses Montana’s Constitution and laws in order to effect positive change.Beyond the Constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment, Montanans are also guaranteed the right to participate in governmental decision-making and to inspect government documents. These rights are part and parcel to MEIC’s work in holding the government and industry accountable for impacts to our environment.
MEIC has successfully used Montana’s robust “right to know” law on countless occasions, and is one of the lead organizations in defending and championing this right. However, one of the major problems associated with this constitutional right (and corresponding set of statutes) is that, until recently, the government did not have to provide public documents by an established deadline. Instead, the government had to provide documents in a “timely” manner, an ambiguous and subjective term which often led to large delays in receiving critical information that would have, for example, assisted the public in better understanding a potential permit approval in advance of a comment deadline or public hearing.
Thankfully, Sen. Janet Ellis (D-Helena) recognized this problem and brought forth SB 232, a bi-partisan change to Montana’s right-to-know law that received overwhelming support and that requires the executive agencies of Montana government comply with deadlines when they receive information requests (five days for easy requests, 60 days for more complex requests). This accountability tool will help to assure that Montanans receive information within a time period that is appropriate and useful. More often than not, the timely receipt of public documents is a critical component of public engagement and understanding; a delay in access to documents diminishes our right to know and participate.
MEIC would like to thank Sen. Ellis for her tireless work in getting this legislation passed, as well as her decades of work on behalf of Montana, our Constitution, and our environment.
This article was published in the June 2023 issue of Down To Earth.