Montana Public Radio

Legislature Rejects Rule Changes Proposed By Republicans

Oct 20, 2020

An effort by Republican state lawmakers to change how the Montana Legislature operates has failed.

Lawmakers part of the Joint House and Senate Rules Committee met on Monday to review a poll taken of the entire Legislature regarding three rules proposed by Republicans. The rules would have changed how the lawmaking body conducts business during the session and in the interim. 

All three proposals were voted down, with some Republicans joining Democrats in opposing them. 

Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas (R) - Stevensville
Credit Mike Albans / Montana Public Radio

There were not enough lawmakers present during Monday’s meeting to make a quorum - the minimum number needed to act officially. Republican Sen. Fred Thomas called the meeting to order anyway, saying the results of the poll needed to be public record. 

"None of the proposed rule changes were adopted by the Legislature. Those actions failed," he said.

It’s unusual for the rules committee to meet before Election Day. But Republicans contend that state law allows them to meet during an emergency, like a pandemic. Legislative legal staff have agreed with this reasoning, but have said it’s unclear what action the committee can take. 

One of the rejected rules would have allowed majority party leaders to have tie-breaking votes in some interim committees, potentially tipping critical votes in bipartisan committees in favor of the Republicans.

Another proposed rule aimed to give the Legislature power to check the executive branch over emergency statewide rules, like those issued by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock during the coronavirus pandemic. 

More than 40 people submitted public comment for the meeting, many in opposition to rules that could allow the majority party to undermine emergency directives from the governor’s office. However, that comment was not included in the public record because Thomas said the content of the proposals would not be discussed.

Democrats refused to participate in the meeting, as they had for two other meetings held last month. Party leaders say the meetings are illegitimate and a "power grab."

Rep. Kimberly Dudik, a Democrat from Missoula, is vice chair of the committee and explained Democrats' opposition to the meeting. 

“When we last met, this group voted on rules in an unprecedented and illegitimate meeting, without a clear process that the public could take part in.”

Although Democrats boycotted the meetings, they did participate in the poll of the Legislature.

Correction: The original headline said a legislative committee rejected the rule changes. In fact, the entire Legislature rejected the proposal.