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Montana Lawmakers Clash Over Process During Rush To Meet Transmittal Deadline

Montana Capitol.
William Marcus
/
Montana Public Radio
Montana Capitol.

The 67th session of the Montana Legislature hit the halfway point Tuesday, and lawmakers are taking a break through next Monday. The week before the break was full of marathon policy debates and votes.

With the adjournment of the state Senate at nearly midnight Monday evening, and the House of Representatives Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers completed the first 45 days of their work.

The halfway point also marks the transmittal deadline for policy bills to advance from one chamber to the other, or die by default. This session, lawmakers saw a flood of bills pile up as the deadline approached. 

House Majority Leader Sue Vinton said in an interview that a number of factors played into the pre-transmittal crunch. 

"We have a new governor, we have new statewide officials, we have lots of new legislators. Also, legislative staff, they were working with a new drafting system, and then on top of all of that, COVID."

Vinton said lawmakers did a good job of giving proper consideration to each bill.

Democrats, who are in the minority, disagree. 

House Minority Leader Kim Abbott. 

“You know our job is to vet legislation, consider it, give it due time and due diligence. And the schedule the majority created for us didn’t allow for it."

Abbott said the process went smoother after Majority Leader Vinton stood on the House Floor Monday and asked lawmakers to maintain decorum throughout the rest of the session.

“Very supportive and thankful that the Majority Leader did that, and hope that we can continue to remind ourselves and the majority: decorum is what allows us to do hard work on the floor."

Vinton said Monday she was responding to a committee that met in a rush on Saturday where Democrats were excluded from participating or voting. 

"We all agree that this House is deserving of our respect and civility even during the most stressful of times."

Lawmakers will reconvene in Helena Monday afternoon for the next half of the session, which will be dominated by debate over the state’s budget. 

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