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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Bill to restructure interim committees passes initial House vote

A door in a Montana Capitol hallway with "Hearing Room" printed on it.
Shaylee Ragar
A hearing room at the Montana Capitol

Montana’s days of partisan balance in interim committees could soon come to an end. While the GOP wants more power between legislative sessions, there was wide support to leave one committee, the liaison between the state and tribal nations, unchanged.

Senate Bill 176, which has already passed through the Senate, would restructure interim committees to have more members from the majority party.

It passed an initial House vote closely along party lines Tuesday. Rep. Amy Regier from Kalispell says this change better reflects the makeup of the Legislature and the GOP’s supermajority.

“A 50/50 makeup of interim committees does not reflect the will of the voters. Senate Bill 176 would correct that,” Regier said.

Before the House voted in support of the policy it amended it with a carveout to keep equal bipartisan balance on the State-Tribal Relations Interim committee.

Rep. Tyson Running Wolf, a Democrat from Browning, said that since the majority of the state’s American Indian Caucus members are Democrats, changing that committee's structure would negatively affect tribal representation.

“Fewer tribal members on State Tribal, would decrease the understanding of these unique differences. And it can sometimes bring policy that is not in the best interest of the tribes,” Running Wolf said.

Six tribal lawmakers sat on this 10 person committee last interim to study issues like missing and murdered Indigenous persons and tribal economic development.

The amendment passed with strong bipartisan support. The bill faces one more vote in the House before it can advance to the Governor’s desk.

Updated: March 22, 2023 at 7:23 AM MDT
This story has been updated to clarify the bipartisan makeup of interim committees if SB 176 is passed.
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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