Bill would give majority party more power on Montana interim committees | State

Senator Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, is submitting his Senate Bill 176, which would change the composition of interim committees, to the Senate State Administration Committee on Monday, January 30, 2023.

Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, presents his Senate Bill 176, which would change the composition of interim committees, to the Senate State Administration Committee on Monday, January 30, 2023. (Photo by Blair Miller, Daily Montanan)

Republicans in the Montana legislature — where they currently hold a supermajority — want to change the makeup of interim legislative committees to give the majority party more power, which they say would simply reflect the will of voters.

Senate Bill 176, sponsored by Senator Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, would do so that four-member interim committees would consist of three members from the majority party and one member from the minority party. Larger committees would also need to reflect the composition of the legislature.

“If the composition of the committee is weighted according to election results during a legislative period, then the interim committee should do the same,” said Regier. “Democracy must not end with death.”

Currently, interim committees consist of an even number of Republicans and Democrats. But Regier said his bill would better reflect the results of the last election and give the minority party — currently Democrats — a better opportunity to spread lawmakers among interim committees so they don’t get overwhelmed.

The measure would apply to 13 different interim committees, Regier said at Monday’s first hearing of the bill before the Senate Administration Committee.

Governor introduced a similar bill in the 2021 session, which died by a 22-28 vote in the Senate. He said he removed administrative committees from this year’s bill in hopes it would clear the hurdle he said had fallen two years ago.

Senate Speaker Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, told reporters Monday morning he supported the measure.

He said he thought the changes would still allow for bipartisanship but would help put lawmakers on better track in terms of drafting bills that would run during the next session.

Governor said after the hearing that the changes would also prevent the minority party from blocking movements during the interim, such as B. Choosing a committee chair, believing that a weighted committee would result in fewer ties.

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An opponent was the only other person besides Regier to testify on Monday’s hearing on the bill — Anne Hedges, director of policy and legislative affairs for the Montana Environmental Information Center.

“I just don’t hear anyone these days saying we need more partisanship in our politics,” she told the committee.

She said she believes interim committees are different from the legislature – a time to think about ideas, explore different angles and see what works and what doesn’t, rather than in legislatures where the majority decides.

She said the bill would make the interim committees one where the majority party doesn’t even have to listen to the minority members, a disservice to the state.

“I just don’t think this is the right direction to take the state,” Hedges said.

Governor said the amendments brought in came from Senate Majority Leader Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls.

Should the committee choose to adopt the changes when it takes executive action, the action would allow the majority to vote in the meantime to propose four bills for the next session without votes from the minority party. There would still be an unlimited number of bills they could vote on on a bipartisan basis.

Governor said after the hearing that four bills, which could come exclusively from members of one party, would allow them to prioritize certain issues without interference from the minority party.

“They don’t want to turn it into a banknote mill where they throw away a lot,” he said.

The Post Bill would give the majority party more power on Montana’s Transitional Committees, first appeared on the Daily Montanan.

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