Would let House Speaker and Senate President break ties in interim

The Montana state capitol in Helena, Montana. (Photo by Eric Seidle for the Daily Montanan.)

A proposal to give legislative majority leadership a tie-breaking vote on interim committees seeking to block administrative rules is advancing through the House, one of several bills this session that would change the partisan makeup of the committees that meet between the Legislature’s biennial meetings.

The House Legislative Administration Committee met Thursday to hear Senate Bill 82, which would codify in statute a provision that lawmakers adopted in their Joint Rules in January giving the House Speaker and Senate President ex officio votes on interim committees in case of a tie vote on a motion objecting to an administrative rule.

“This is about reining in the power of the executive branch,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls. “We need to start blocking rules.”

In the long stretches of time that elapse between Montana’s relatively brief legislative sessions, lawmakers meet in interim committees that are generally evenly bipartisan, making ties much more likely than in the body’s standing committees, which are roughly weighted to match the overall partisanship of the Legislature.

These committees are tasked with studying and recommending legislation for the upcoming session. But they can also respond to rules from the executive branch — which are designed to interpret and effectuate legislative intent — a prerogative that has created a variety of legal battles over jurisdiction and the balance of power in recent years.

In 2019, under the administration of Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule banning the sale of flavored vaping products; in the prior legislative session, a proposal to do the same had failed. The Economic Affairs interim committee objected to the rule, but the executive branch argued it was out of its jurisdiction to do so. The Department eventually backed off the rule.

Four years before, the Legislature created a tax credit for private school scholarships. But the Department of Revenue blocked funding from going to religious schools, which Republican lawmakers said contravened the intent of the bill. A legal showdown resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the department’s prohibition.

“I don’t think we would be here if the prior administration wasn’t abusing the rulemaking process,” Fitzpatrick said in explaining the measure.

In standing committees or on the House floor, a tie-vote kills a bill. But when lawmakers are considering an administrative rule, they are technically voting on an objection to that rule — so, a tie-vote means the objection fails and the rule goes through.

This would be changed under the proposal, which allows the Speaker and Senate President to come in and break that tie. Conceivably, Fitzpatrick acknowledged, they could vote different ways, again creating a tie, though he said he’d be open to a legislative rule ensuring they vote the same way when breaking a tie.

In January, a party-line vote added a version of Fitzpatrick’s proposal to the Legislature’s joint operating rules. The bill would make that amendment law, which Fitzpatrick said is necessary because he believes the court gives precedence to statute over the rules that lawmakers adopt for themselves.

While these changes seem arcane, they would, as Rep. Ed Stafman, D-Bozeman, pointed out in committee Thursday, “shift a bipartisan project to the majority party in every case” of a tie.

It’s one of several ways that Republican lawmakers are seeking to bolster their power in the interim. Another is Sen. Keith Regier’s Senate Bill 122, which would skew interim committees in the same fashion as standing committees. That bill still awaits passage in the Senate.

Fitzpatrick’s SB82 passed on a partisan vote in the Senate in January.

HELENA -- In the 1920’s, Missoula’s water utility commissioned several dams along the Rattlesnake River to provide drinking water during dry summers. The city later changed where it got its water, but the dams remained.

Removal of one of those dams -- the McKinley Lake Dam -- is one of several projects included in House Bill 6, which would continue funding for grants of up to $125,000 to cities, towns, irrigation districts, conservation districts and others for water, solar or wind infrastructure projects. Lawmakers on an appropriations subcommittee heard testimony on the proposals Monday.

Other projects include a proposal to add solar panels to the roof of an elementary school in Belgrade and restoring a trout spawning ground near Helena. 

Jim Simpson is the President of the Montana Association of Conservation Districts. He spoke on behalf of all 75 projects in the bill and joined the committee via Zoom.

“Since inception, RRGL grants have resulted in conservation work across the state,” Simpson said. “It’s hard to find a legislative district that has not benefited.”

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation distributes the grants, but needs legislative approval first.  

James Bradley is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.

Dec 21, 2020

On December 18, 2020, Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue was called for a paragliding accident. A 25-year-old man crashed his paraglider on a steep, rocky mountainside north of the Big Sky Meadow Village and sustained serious injuries. Multiple search and rescue units, including Big Sky Search and Rescue, Heli/Alpine Team, and Ham radio operators, responded. SAR volunteers were able to reach the patient and short-haul him out of the mountains by helicopter, then deliver him to the Big Sky Fire Department. The patient was ultimately flown by Life Flight Network to Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital for treatment.

Photos courtesy of Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office


Oct 28, 2020
The Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series yesterday in game 6. It had been 32 years since the last time the storied team had won the series, the Los Angeles Times reports.


July 30, 2019
A runner hailing from Atlanta was assisted by a Sheriff's Search and Rescue party on Saturday.
The 45-year-old runner started out at the Fairy Lake Trailhead and hoped to run the Ridge Trail, but he became "disoriented and unsure of his location," the sheriff's office reported in a press release.
The runner was wearing shorts and did not have a rain coat .
The man's 911 call showed him to be south of Naya-Nuki peark. Rescuers spoke with him over the phone and pegged his location to be on the east side of the ridgeline. The Search and Rescue party then worked through "torrential rains" to reach the runner.
They provided the stranded man with warm clothes, and he was able to hike out accompanied by the rescue team. Once back at the trailhead, the man commented, "The professionalism and kindness of the this team is amazing," the press release quoted.
The man had taken an Uber to the trailhead. A deputy drove him back to Bozeman, the release said.