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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Proposal would give majority party control over interim committees

Hearing room at the Montana Capitol.
William Marcus
Montana Public Radio

A proposal to give more power to lawmakers in Montana’s majority party — in this case, Republicans — received its first hearing in the House this week. The bill has already passed the Senate.

The bill, brought by Republican Sen. Keith Regier from Kalispell, would replace the state’s bipartisan interim committees with committees controlled by Republicans.

“Many minority senators have multiple committees that gives minority senators, as individuals, more influence,” Regier said.

Currently, state law mandates that most interim committees are made up of an even 50/50 split of Democrats and Republicans.

Regier said the political balance should be shifted to favor the majority party. No one spoke in support of the bill during its public hearings in the House and the Senate.

Opponents of the idea say it would increase divisive partisanship.

Democratic Sen. Janet Ellis from Helena spoke against the bill when it was heard on the Senate floor, saying that the current makeup of committees encourages effective bipartisan collaboration.

“Interim committees are fair as they stand now, because they break down barriers between legislators,” Ellis said.

Bills from interim committees have a better chance of passing into law than any other kind of legislation. According to legislative staff, over the course of the last 8 legislative sessions interim bills had, on average, over a 60% chance of becoming law, while all other bills had a 44% chance.

Sen. Jason Small, a Republican from Busby and chairman of Montana’s American Indian Caucus — which is mostly made up of Democrats — said the legislation could hurt Native representation, especially on the State-Tribal Relations Committee.

“Without the caucus members, without representation from the Native Americans on that committee, it's going to be extremely tough, because it's going to be a full-on learning process from start to finish,” Small said.

Small says people who aren’t Indigenous, or don’t come from a reservation don’t know the issues those communities face.

The House Legislative Administration Committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

Ellis Juhlin is MTPR's Rocky Mountain Front reporter. Ellis previously worked as a science reporter at Utah Public Radio and a reporter at Yellowstone Public Radio. She has a Master's Degree in Ecology from Utah State University. She's an average birder and wants you to keep your cat indoors. She has two dogs, one of which is afraid of birds.
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