HELENA - The leader of the group behind Initiative 183, which would have required transgender people to use public bathrooms and locker rooms in Montana coinciding with their birth sex, said Monday that an adverse court ruling and misinformation from opponents help sink the measure.
“All of these things together added so much confusion to the issue,” said Jeff Laszloffy, president of Montana Family Foundation, which promotes conservative social issues.
The proposed initiative failed to qualify for the November ballot, as supporters did not submit enough signatures of registered voters by the June 22 deadline.
Laszloffy said only about 9,000 signatures had been verified as of this week – well short of the minimum 25,468 signatures required statewide.
Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, celebrated the measure’s failure, calling it an effort to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Montanans.
“We are thrilled, although not surprised, to learn this harmful measure failed to qualify for the November ballot,” said Marina Connor of Free & Fair Coalition, an opposition group. “Montanans sent a clear message that they stand with the transgender and non-binary community and will not tolerate hate and bigotry in the Treasure State.”
Supporters of I-183 began their petition drive a year ago.
But a Montana Supreme Court ruling last fall that said language on the initiative needed to be reworded forced backers to abandon “thousands and thousands” of signatures that they had already collected, Laszloffy said.
He said backers of I-183 considered going back to the court to clarify whether they had to start anew, but decided that move might just further delay the effort.
“I think that that (court ruling) took some of the momentum out of the effort,” he said, noting that signature-gatherers had obtained many signatures at summer festivals that wouldn’t be held again before this year’s deadline to turn in signatures.
Laszloffy also said opponents spread misleading information about the fiscal impact of the measure, should it pass, saying its economic impact would be far more than expected.
Still, Laszloffy said he believes the issue will soon be addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which, with a new Trump appointee, will rule in favor of those who say transgender use of certain restrooms and locker rooms should be restricted.
Backers of I-183 said transgender Montanans who identify as a particular sex should be required to use public restrooms and locker rooms that coincide with their birth sex.
In a release last week, the ACLU of Montana noted that its lawsuit last year invalidated I-183’s ballot statement and voided many signatures.
ACLU of Montana also sued later to have I-183 declared unconstitutional, but now that the measure won’t be on the ballot, it said the suit likely would be dismissed.
“Courts across the country have found measures like I-183 to be unconstitutional, and voters in a growing number of states have rejected similar attempts to legalize discrimination,” said Caitlin Borgmann, executive director of ACLU of Montana.