‘Donut’ Opinion Revised
HELENA – The 2001 Legislature did intend that building code enforcement in so-called ‘donut” areas around several Montana cities would end on the effective date of Senate Bill 242, the Attorney General’s office concluded in a revised opinion released Friday.
According to a letter from Chief Civil Counsel Chris Tweeten, records of the legislative history surrounding SB 242 came to light after the first opinion on the bill was released earlier this month, necessitating revisions to one section of the opinion.
The earlier opinion had noted that the new law was ambiguous on the issue of whether it intended to immediately eliminate existing donut areas, or to continue municipal jurisdiction in these areas pending the outcome of the required special elections. In the absence of written legislative records, that opinion concluded that it was most likely that the legislature intended that existing “donut areas” would continue pending the required election.
The revised opinion comes to a different conclusion, based on minutes from a legislative committee meeting. According to the revised opinion, those minutes suggest that the legislature intended “to eliminate municipal jurisdiction in the donut areas unless the voters choose to revive it in the election provided in Section 8.”
Based on this legislative history, the revised opinion concludes that municipal jurisdictional areas can no longer enforce municipal building code provisions, but that jurisdiction may be regained if voters approve it, in an election that must occur before Dec. 31, 2001.
Billings, Bozeman, Columbia Falls, Kalispell, Miles City, Missoula and Whitefish have ‘donut’ areas – real estate within 4½ miles of the city limits – and are affected by the ruling.
An attorney general’s opinion carries the weight of law unless a court overturns it or the Legislature modifies the laws involved.