Montana Hall File, MSU File

A man skateboards through Montana State University campus at sunset on April 2, 2021.

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Montana’s high court rejected two lawsuits this week challenging new laws affecting higher education in the state, including the law expanding gun carry on college campuses.

On Wednesday, the Montana Supreme Court dismissed both suits and a request for an immediate stay of a June 1 campus carry law without prejudice, saying in the orders that the plaintiffs could seek recourse through a district court. Both plaintiffs plan to refile the lawsuits.

The Board of Regents filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court earlier this month challenging House Bill 102, which expands firearm carry in the state, including on college campuses. The regents had also asked the court to stay the June 1 implementation of the law.

After the court’s decision, a spokesperson for the university system said the regents would refile the case in a district court.

A second suit filed May 20 by a coalition of higher education leaders, university representatives and students challenged four laws that were passed by the Montana Legislature this session, including HB 102. Their suit was also dismissed on Wednesday.

Jim Goetz, a Bozeman-based attorney representing members of the coalition, said the group planned to file in district court.

Goetz said the Montana Supreme Court decided to dismiss the case because they deemed it wasn’t sufficiently urgent to be heard directly by the highest court in the state.

The Board of Regents was slated to vote Wednesday on a new firearm carry policy that aligns with the law. But the board decided to wait until after a decision from the Montana Supreme Court. The court made its decision hours later.

The regents meeting is scheduled to continue at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. The university system spokesperson said the board planned no further action during its Thursday meeting.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Regent Brianne Rogers, chair of the academic, research and student affairs committee, recommended delaying any revisions to the current policy on security and law enforcement operations.

Rogers also acknowledged the large amount of feedback the board has received on HB 102.

“To date, we have received more than 5,600 written comments and over 900 people who joined our ARSA committee listening session on May 12, including verbal public comment from over 70 people that day,” Rogers said. “We take the public comment process very seriously and hearing from the public has helped us inform our decisions.”

Rogers said the board has not reviewed its security and law enforcement operations policy since 2012. She recommended that, given the high level of public interest, the board undertake a review of the policy in coordination with campuses in the university system.

A better understanding of how the policies have been implemented and if there are complaints will allow the board to decide if any changes are needed, she said.

Earlier this month, the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education released a draft policy that would follow HB 102. It outlined the certification process, restrictions, campus housing roles and enforcement of firearm carry on university system campuses.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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