By Leia Larsen, Montana Free Press

HELENA — Youth suicide, honoring an officer, coal plants, switchblades, and plastic straws: lawmakers have a lot to discuss during Week 3 of the legislative session. Here are a handful of topics to follow. 

Bill honors fallen Broadwater County deputy

The murder of Broadwater County Deputy Mason Moore in 2017 shook Montana’s law enforcement community. This session, Rep. Julie Dooling, R-Helena, wants to honor Moore by renaming Highway 287, where the deputy lost his life, in his honor. HB 156 would create the Mason Moore Memorial Highway and place signs with the officer’s name, badge number, and date of death at mile marker 109. The current bill draft does not specify how much of the highway will be included, but it directs Department of Transportation to include the Mason Moore memorial highway in state maps. The House Transportation Committee will hear the bill at 3 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 21, in Room 455.

Lawmaker proposes state purchase of Colstrip power plant

As neighboring states reduce their use of fossil fuels for energy production, shutdowns loom over coal mining and power generation in Colstrip. Rep. Rodney Garcia, R-Billings, suggests the state step in and save the town with HB 203. The bill would create the Montana Energy and Security Act, supplying up to $500 million in state bonds to buy coal plants and establishing a five-person public power commission to purchase Montana coal plants and oversee them as state-owned assets. Garcia told the Billings Gazette that he drafted the legislation in response to Colstrip workers’ concerns. The House Committee on Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations will hold a hearing on HB 203 at 3 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 21, in Room 472.

House explores strategies for youth health and safety

Three bills are on the docket this week that address issues facing Montana’s teenagers and school-age kids.

HB 187 would channel $1.6 million from the state’s General Fund to the Department of Health and Human Services to provide grants for youth suicide prevention programs. A companion bill, HB 186, would create a two-year depression and mental health screening pilot program in schools supported by $1 million from the General Fund. Both bills are sponsored by Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena. The House Human Services Committee will hear the bills at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 22, in Room 152.

HB 178 would prohibit texting and driving by minors, with fines starting at $50 for the first offense and rising to $200 for the second offense. The House Transportation Committee will consider the bill at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 23, in Room 455.

Senate considers single-use plastics

Plastic straws created quite a stir in 2018, with airlines, cities, and restaurants nationwide placing restrictions or outright bans on the products. Montana lawmakers will mull their own straw regulations with SB 120, sponsored by Sen. Sue Malek, D-Missoula. The bill would prohibit restaurants from providing plastic straws unless a customer specifically asks for one.

Malek is also sponsoring SB 121, which would impose a 4-cent fee on each single-use carry-out bag provided by retailers. The bill would also require plastic and paper bags in Montana to be 100-percent recyclable and printed with the phrase “Please recycle this bag.”

Both bills will be heard by the Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs Committee at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 23, in Room 422.

A state ban on switchblades could get cut

In the 1950s, a wave of panic about switchblades and gang violence swept the nation, resulting in a ban on the knives that lingers today. HB 155, sponsored by Casey Knudsen, R-Malta, would repeal Montana’s switchblade law. Currently, it’s illegal to carry a switchblade in the state or have one in a car, offenses punishable by a $500 fine and up to six months in prison. Collectors are allowed to own switchblades, however, if they register the knives with their county sheriff.

The House Judiciary Committee will have a hearing on the bill at 8 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 21, in Room 137. Even if HB 155 passes, the 1958 Federal Switchblade Act still prohibits importing switchblades or purchasing them through interstate commerce.



Tuesday, January 8, 2019 - President Trump plans to address the nation tonight on border security and his demand for a wall. Also, on the Tuesday

rundown: Tennessee’s governor grants clemency to a sex-trafficking victim, and we will let you know why the Chesapeake Bay is more polluted for the

first time in a decade. 




HELENA — A proposed change to the way the House considers bills has been tabled, for now.

In November, Democrats and some Republicans on the Legislative Council proposed rule changes that would allow lawmakers to move bills to the House floor with a simple majority vote, instead of the supermajority currently required.

In the past, some hot-button bills floundered and died in “kill committees” without enough votes to push them through. In the case of some bills, the House Speaker never assigned the bill to a committee for a hearing, effectively killing it.

In an effort to limit the ability of the leadership to hamstring bills through such parliamentary tactics, a handful of Republicans sided with House Democrats to support the rule changes.

Typically, an interim House Rules Committee debates and votes on proposed rule changes prior to the start of the Legislative session, which begins Jan. 7. But Republicans voted along party lines Tuesday to adjourn the interim committee without debate, and without taking action on the proposed rule changes.

According to committee chairman Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, lawmakers will take up the issue again on Jan. 8, the second day of the 2019 session.

House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner, D-Great Falls, addressed the committee during Tuesday’s interim House Rules Committee hearing and urged its members to give the rules serious consideration. Schreiner said majority rule is at the heart of the democratic process, and the House should operate by the same rules as the Senate, which does not require a supermajority to “blast” stalled bills out of committee or bring measures to the floor for debate.

“It was pure obstructionism for [the Republicans] to shut down a committee in the middle of business,” Schreiner said after the hearing.

Schreiner is not a member of the rules committee but did testify during public comment on the proposed rule change.

The Legislative Council proposed eight changes to House rules — changes Schreiner said Democrats have sought for years. Democrats have been in the minority in all but two sessions dating back to 1993. In 2005 and in 2009 the House was tied 50-50.

The most dramatic changes would model certain House voting procedures after Senate protocols — specifically those for appointing House standing committees, adopting rules, and re-referral or withdrawal of bills.

In the past, the House has required a three-fifths majority on those measures. By following the Senate’s lead, the 100-member House would need only a simple majority — 51 votes — to move bills to the floor for debate.

Skees said he needed more time to consider the rule-change proposals and their consequences.

“This is a process that would dramatically change the way the House does business. It’s the way we’ve done business for 30 years,” Skees said.

Skees also called the changes “horrible” and said they would sap the majority party’s power and undermine what he views as a mandate from Montana voters to follow the Republican platform.

Republicans currently hold a 58-42 majority in the House. A small group of GOP lawmakers occasionally work with Democrats on certain issues, including the rule-change proposals.

Skees called the group an “oligarchy” trying to manipulate the system.

“Why [do] members of the majority caucus want to pass rules that weaken majority caucus?” Skees said. “That’s my question. That takes an insight into the motives and minds of the individuals doing it, and I can’t go there yet.”

Schreiner argued the proposed changes make House processes more democratic.

“I think we need to take political parties out of this and talk about the number of votes,” he said. “Every person represents a certain number of people in Montana, [and] 51 [votes] represents the majority. It doesn’t matter whose side you’re on, that’s the way you pass legislation.”

John S. Adams contributed to this report. 


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