Lawmakers Kill Rule That Would Give More Power to Speaker

Committee members voted unanimously to abandon the proposal during the meeting

By Lisa Baumann, Associated Press

HELENA – Members of Montana’s Legislative House Rules Committee did away with a proposed rule Tuesday that would have given the House speaker more power over the fate of bills.

Committee members voted unanimously to abandon the proposal during the meeting. The rule change would have called for a super-majority vote to overrule the speaker’s decisions to send bills to the Appropriations Committee. Because the committee is chosen by the speaker, the tactic is sometimes used to indefinitely stall a bill a speaker doesn’t like.

The current rule allows a simple majority of the House to overrule the speaker on such matters.

Rep. Tom Woods spoke out against the rule proposal in the weeks leading up to the session and said after the meeting he believes the awareness brought to the proposed change led committee members to back off.

“Sometimes justice prevails,” the Bozeman Democrat said.

With a 59-41 Republican majority in the House, the GOP controls the rules committee.

Republican House Speaker Austin Knudsen said previously the proposal would “harmonize” this rule with others requiring a supermajority to overrule a speaker’s decisions to send bills to other committees.

House Democrats said it would give GOP leaders too much legislative power.

More than a dozen amendments were proposed to the rules bill, many by Democrats who wanted other rules requiring supermajority votes removed from the books. Those amendments died along party lines.

Bozeman Republican Rep. Art Wittich said while most of the time the majority should rule, at times super-majority rules have been well used.

“It’s very established in this body that at times majority should not rule and the supermajority should,” he said.

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