A Montana New Year’s Resolution

Visit the Capitol in Helena during our 66th Legislative Session, which officially starts Jan. 8 and is scheduled to end May 1

By Dave Skinner

I trust everyone had a wonderful merry Christmas? Good, time for our New Year’s 2019 resolutions. Besides washboard abs, here’s another I hope you join me in making: Visit the Capitol in Helena during our 66th Legislative Session, which officially starts Jan. 8 and is scheduled to end May 1. Take your kids, too, if you can.

Every Montanan should go to Helena at least once per session. With 3,000 bills reported to be in 2019’s hopper already, something that matters enough to justify your road trip is sure to be on the agenda. The trick, as always, is knowing exactly who, when and where.

For who, there’s the Montana Electric Co-op Associations’ guide booklet, available at Flathead Electric’s front office.

Regarding Helena’s when and where, forget Facebook, please. There’s TV news, of course, but TV is inherently shallow, and almost always after the fact. Montana newspapers do better, but still can’t, and don’t, cover every important thing. Your best bet is to copy Helena’s too-darn-many lobbyists: Go straight to unfiltered sources, the earlier the better.

First, there’s the Montana Public Affairs Network (MTPAN), which broadcasts both committee and floor events over the air (Channel 46-5 in Kalispell). I dare you to watch even an hour of proceedings – if you can stay awake that long. Well, could you stay awake through ten hours a day until May first?

Far more efficient and useful is the Montana Legislature website (leg.mt.gov), which gets better, more transparent, and more useful every cycle. Want to find a bill? Easy! Want to comment? Easy! Want to testify in person before a committee? Yep, still easy – just show up, sign in, and you’ll get your 30 to 90 seconds of utter glory, just like a too-dang-many lobbyist! Want to buttonhole your legislator? Sort of easy, more so if you call ahead and are respectful of the honestly ridiculous competing demands for their time.

Not so easy? Parking, which skunks around the Capitol during the session. Fortunately, there is a free shuttle from the Capitol Hill Mall parking lot every 15 minutes. Last time I rode, the heaters were working fine.

Finally, there’s the motels. Helena has lots, just don’t expect any “off-season discount” during the session. I used to take “day” trips, which lasted 14 hours minimum up to 20, most of that driving at night. So, getting the “cheapest” room available is usually “worth it.”

Our Flathead delegation will be pretty busy and influential, it seems. Some highlights:

Of Flathead state senators (all R, in a 30-20 majority) Dee Brown will chair State Administration and vice-chair Business, Labor and Economic Affairs. Keith Regier will vice-chair Education and Cultural Resources (ECR), sit on Energy, and chair Ethics (on-call). Al Olszewski will vice-chair Health and Human Services (joint), and sit on Agriculture, the two health committees, Finance and Rules.

Majority whip Mark Blasdel will be on ECR, Rules and Taxation. President Pro Tempore Bob Keenan will sit on Finance and Claims, two health committees, Rules and chair on-call Legislative Administration.

In the state House, which Republicans control 58-42 (Greg Hertz of Polson will be Speaker), Carl Glimm (R) will co-chair Appropriations. Mark Noland (R) will chair Business and Labor and be a member of Natural Resources. Frank Garner will vice-chair Transportation, while Derek Skees (R) will be chair of Rules, vice-chair of both Ethics and Federal Relations. Matt Regier will be on Approriations, Rules, and chair Judicial Branch (joint House and Senate). Freshman John Fuller landed seats on Education, Taxation, plus Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Dave Fern (D) is a vice-chair on Local Government and also a Taxation member. Fern is also on Transportation with Zac Perry (D), who in turn also sits on Ethics and Judiciary.

How will the session go? Governor Steve Bullock (D) is up against term limits and running for president. Expect him to do whatever he thinks will generate the most “presidential buzz” above the tiny amount he’s generated so far.

How much buzz Bullock gets will depend on how much “unity” Montana Republicans (the “reals” and the “RINOs”) can muster on bills that matter. One thing for sure, they’ll see each other in Helena.