First week of the Legislature
The first week of the 68th Legislature is off and running. Here a few of the highlights and lowlights as the week unfolded:
Kicking off the session, in a lovely rendition of Danny Boy, Sen. Shannon O’Brien led a tribute, in which all of the Senators joined, in honoring the late former Senator Mark Sweeney, who passed away last spring. You can watch this beautiful tribute and read more in a piece by Sam Wilson for the Helena Independent-Record. Shannon4Montana
GOOD NEWS On Tuesday, Senate Rules Committee Chair Steve Fitzpatrick (R-Great Falls) stripped his proposal to muzzle the Consumer Counsel from the joint rules of the session (SJ1. The committee adopted the amendment unanimously with no opposition. Alert readers will recall that this rule would have prevented the Consumer Counsel, a position enshrined in our state Constitution, from being able to speak on legislation without permission of a legislative committee. Kudos to Montanans who rose up and objected to this egregious idea. SJ1 will also go to the House, assuming it passes the Senate, and we will keep an eye on it. SPEAKING OF THE HOUSE RULES COMMITTEE….. Solutions minded Republicans in the House brought an amendment this week to the proposed House Rules (HR1) to lower the threshold for blasting a bill out of a Committee. The motion is seen as an attempt to moderate the House, especially in light of a Republican supermajority dominated by far right wing members. The amendment lowered the blast motion requirement from 60 to 55. It means that a combination of Democrats and moderate Republicans could bring a bill that has been locked up in a Committee to the floor for debate. With 28 Democrats, a blast motion would require at least 27 Republicans to succeed. In the Senate, a blast motion only requires a majority, 26 votes out of 50. Here’s how your Representative voted on the amended House Rules (57-44). It gives you a bellwether of where he or she lands on the moderate vs. far right wing spectrum in the Montana House. EMERGING ASSAULT ON MONTANA NATIVE AMERICAN RIGHTS Between an assault on voting rights, otherwise known as the Election Integrity Commission, and a Draft Resolution from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Keith Regier (R-Kalispell) urging Congress to investigate the American Reservation system, Montana’s Native communities are clearly in the cross hairs of the majority party. Sen. Regier’s resolution (LC1964) has not yet been introduced, and we hope it will not come forward. Among other things, it asserts that the reservation system is based on race and therefore unconstitutional. It also asserts that tribal sovereignty is “diametrically opposed to the Constitution of the United States." See Montana’s Native American Caucus response in this article. TAKE AWAY QUOTES FROM MONTANA EDITORIAL WRITERS ON THE (SO-CALLED) ELECTION INTEGRITY COMMISSION Bozeman Chronicle Editorial Board “Let’s call this what it is: an orchestrated effort to make it harder to vote. Republicans have become convinced that the more people vote, the lower their chances of winning.” Darrell Ehrlick in the Montana Daily: “If we’re just trying to soothe our overheated minds, why not form an alien detection task force to make sure that invaders from a distant planet haven’t somehow seeped into our big old state? I mean, it wouldn’t hurt just to give folks peace of mind, right? Or what about a Yeti task force to ensure that outdoor enthusiasts aren’t bothered by more than grizzlies? More than anything, this is lazy lawmaking, bordering on absurd and dangerous.” JUDICIAL INTEGRITY Billings District Judge Ashley Harada was selected by legislative leadership to administer the oath of office in the House of Representatives. Ironically, Judge Harada is the only sitting district judge in the State of Montana to be suspended for violating judicial rules by not being truthful under oath. There are many bills in the pipeline to politicize and undermine the independence of the Judicial Branch. We will continue to follow it and keep you informed. PROTECTING THE MONTANA CONSTITUTION Rep. Jennifer Carlson (R-Manhattan) has introduced HB 197 Constitutional amendment on article X, section 9. The bill amends the constitution to “clarify the authority of the Board of Regents” (meaning: undermine the authority of the BOR). No hearing has been scheduled yet – we will keep you updated when it is! Message to all lawmakers on Constitutional amendments is: “Just Say No” Read this Guest Column by Former Justice Jim Nelson here for more on how the new legislative supermajority may take aim at the Montana Constitution. TAKE ACTION! Big Sky 55+ will send out an alert and talking points when the hearing is scheduled, which could come up quickly, so be on the lookout!