MSU Wild

Groups of people pass through Montana State University campus, Wednesday afternoon, May 12, 2021.

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The Montana Board of Regents plans to consider asking for a judicial review of a controversial law that allows firearm carry on college campuses, which many critics see as infringing on the authority of the board to set policies for the university system.

The Board of Regents is scheduled to meet virtually at 8 a.m. Wednesday to vote on whether to request a judicial review of House Bill 102, the law that expands where firearms can be carried in the state, including on college campuses.

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the new law on Feb. 18. While the law has already gone into effect, the campus provisions won’t be implemented until June 1.

A spokesperson for the Montana University System said a judicial review could mean asking the courts for further clarification on the constitutional authority of the Board of Regents as it relates to HB 102. They said that could involve the Montana Supreme Court or a district court and would likely be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, if the board votes to move forward with the request.

Opponents to the campus carry portion of the law argue it subverts the constitutional authority of the Board of Regents to manage the university system campuses.

If passed by a majority of the regents on Wednesday, the resolution would direct the Commissioner of Higher Education to request a judicial review on HB 102 “to determine whether the law improperly encroaches upon the constitutional role and autonomy of the Board,” according to the draft resolution.

The Board of Regents Chair Casey Lozar said the board would need to have a discussion and make a decision as a group on what next steps might look like.

“Certainly, for us as the governing body of the Montana University System, it’s just critical that we have this conversation among board members of the potential action options that we could pursue as it relates to the Legislature’s passage of House Bill 102,” Lozar said.

He said seeking clarity from the courts on the board’s constitutional authority as it relates to House Bill 102 would be one avenue of possible action.

The Montana Constitution states “the government and control of the Montana university system is vested in a board of regents of higher education which shall have full power, responsibility, and authority to supervise, coordinate, manage and control the Montana university system and shall supervise and coordinate other public educational institutions assigned by law.”

The resolution says HB 102 “seeks to limit the Board’s authority to supervise, coordinate, manage and control the campuses of the Montana University System.”

The draft resolution concludes that while the Board of Regents “respects the role of the legislature, judicial review is appropriate to ensure that constitutional roles of each entity are being properly exercised.”

Public comment on the new law has been a critical component in determining what action the board might pursue, Lozar said.

“We know in the previous weeks and months the regents have received thousands of comments from individuals expressing concerns with House Bill 102,” he said.

Wednesday’s meeting will come a week after many opponents of campus carry spoke out against it and urged the Board of Regents to mount a legal challenge during a virtual listening session by the board’s Academic, Research and Student Affairs Committee.

More than 170 people signed up to provide public comment with around 600 people tuning into the virtual meeting. An additional 1,500-plus written comments have been submitted to the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education.

Possible legal challenges from outside the Board of Regents have also been gaining momentum in the past week. Montana State University’s Faculty Senate voted in favor of joining a possible suit that would challenge recent legislation, including the campus carry law.

Earlier this month, Montana University System Faculty Association Representatives, a 16-member committee representing the 8 campus Faculty Senates, also voted in favor of becoming a plaintiff in a potential lawsuit.

The Montana Federation of Public Employees is said to be considering challenging the law, too.

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

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