Gazette opinion: What’s on Legislature’s agenda for 2015?

2014-03-26T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: What’s on Legislature’s agenda for 2015? The Billings Gazette
March 26, 2014 12:00 am

The start of the 2015 Montana Legislature is more than nine months and two elections away, but the list of potential legislation is already 76 bills long.

The first requests were made by Republican Sens. Scott Sales of Bozeman and Dee Brown of Hungry Horse just weeks after the 2013 session ended. On April 23, Sales requested three bills to “generally revise education laws” and Brown requested four bills on the same broad subject.

On more specific topics, Republican Debby Barrett, R-Dillon, requested a “resolution to not confirm Jonathan Motl as commissioner of political practices. (Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Motl to the office, and he will need state Senate confirmation in 2015 to stay in office.)

Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey, requested a resolution “not to confirm Mary Nerud on the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation” and another bill to prohibit sage grouse hunting in Montana. Bullock appointed Nerud to the BOGC last summer to replace Mary Sexton, whom the GOP-dominated Senate refused to confirm in the 2013 session. Nerud is a Circle rancher who was a citizen lobbyist for Northern Plains Resource Council at the Legislature.

Privacy concerns

Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, requested a bill to revise privacy laws related to event data recorders and vehicles, while Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, asked for a bill to prohibit the request of online passwords as a condition of hiring or employment.

Bradley Hamlett, D-Cascade, requested a draft to provide for a primary seat belt law. Bills that would allow the state’s seat belt law to be enforced like all other traffic laws have been supported by Montana safety and health advocates for years, but have repeatedly failed in past legislatures.

First-term Sen. Roger Webb, R-Billings, was the first Yellowstone County lawmaker to request bills. Webb’s list includes: generally revise landlord-tenant laws, revise laws related to DNA sampling on state convicted felons, prohibit use of taxpayer money for public and private sector bailouts, revised laws relating to the legislative veto override voting process and revise laws related to state common core education standards.

It’s common for holdover senators to make early requests at the behest of legislative candidates who aren’t eligible to make the requests. Usually, this far in advance of the session, lawmakers haven’t provided the information that legislative staff will need to actually draft the bills.

In March of 2012, there were only 54 bill requests, compared with 76 this time. Could that be an indication that the next session will see more requests than last?

The 2013 session saw 2,218 bill draft requests, 1,201 bills introduced and 423 passed by the Legislature, according to information from Susan Byorth Fox, director of Legislative Services. However, the data shows 2013 had the fewest bill draft requests in a decade and the fewest bills passed since 1965.

Legislative website

All bill draft requests are listed on the legislative website. That’s only one of many informational features on this valuable site. Citizens can read the text of bills after they are written. They can find out what bills a lawmaker introduced in a session and how individual lawmakers voted on bills. Have an interest in taxes, hunting or energy development? The website allows citizens to call up bills by subject, read the bills and find out how every lawmaker voted.

While the truth gets distorted on the campaign trail, the legislative website is a source of objective information. Citizens who want facts about what their lawmakers did in Helena should check leg.mt.gov.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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