Montana’s Chief Justice canceled a speech he was supposed to give to lawmakers today. Mike McGrath says he canceled the State of the Judiciary Address after he was told by Montana’s Senate President that lawmakers didn’t have time to attend.
The State of the Judiciary Address is the first in a series of speeches from top department leaders in Montana that senators won't attend this legislative session.
Republican Senate President Scott Sales backed out of his initial agreement to attend the Chief Justice’s speech, saying he doesn’t think Senators can spare the time:
"One of our goals is to get done in a timely fashion, and it takes quite a bit of time away from our work. We are definitely going to be attending the State of the State address for the governor, but these other ones, we felt our time could be better spent working on bills and getting our work done in the Senate."
Sales says he sent a letter to all upcoming state address speakers, saying the Senate would not join the House of Representatives for those events.
Sales anticipates major changes coming out of the administration of President-elect Donald Trump. And he says not attending department state address speeches will save Montana lawmakers time to work on whatever comes down from the federal level.
Democratic minority leaders in the Senate say they were aware of the Senate president's decision and they respect his choice.
Chief Justice Mike McGrath says he canceled his speech because he didn’t see the point of addressing the House if the Senate wasn’t going to show up:
"I was surprised when I got the letter. I think it was an opportunity to improve cooperation and communication between the legislative and judicial branches. There is a tradition, at least the last few sessions, of doing this. I personally thought it was a good tradition to maintain."
Montana’s House Speaker, Republican Austin Knudsen agrees with McGrath that state address speeches are a good tradition:
"They’re a good opportunity for legislators, especially the new legislators to get educated on some of these statewide officials and their respective roles."
Knudsen says he will continue to invite department officials to give speeches to the House of Representatives.
Senate President Scott Sales says not going to these speeches from department officials will save the Senate a few days over the course the session.
Montana law requires the House and Senate gather for the governor’s State of the State Address, which Sales says the Senate will attend. That’s scheduled for January 24.