Guest opinion: Legislature must end 'culture of marginalization'

2013-06-17T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Legislature must end 'culture of marginalization'By MIKE PHILLIPS The Billings Gazette
June 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Gov. Steve Bullock recently vetoed 71 bills, including 24 that passed both the Montana House and Senate with a super majority of votes. Much has been written in newspapers across the state about the various policies at stake, the values they represent, and whether legislators should support the vetoes.

The wrangling over individual bills, the merits of each notwithstanding, is not the real story. What should be of greater interest to all Montanans is the fact that the legislative leadership teams from the House and Senate chambers waited until legislators had essentially checked out to deliver to Gov. Bullock 185 bills for his consideration. This represents nearly 40 percent of the bills passed during the 2013 legislative session.

By purposefully waiting until past the last functional minute, the speaker of the House and president of the Senate significantly marginalized the executive branch and the Legislature by eliminating any opportunity for amendatory vetoes. By design, amendatory vetoes create prime opportunities for useful collaboration between the executive and legislative branches. Such collaborations have great potential to advance good public policies that benefit all Montanans.

Secret selection meetings

Assignment of legislators to legislative committees is another area where a “culture of marginalization” is plainly manifest. Looking back on the recent session, I stand in utter disbelief of the historical and contemporary willingness of members of the Senate to support colleagues who hold secret meetings to make decisions concerning all-important committee assignments. Such meetings violate our constitution, state law, and legislative rules which mandate an open and transparent government.

The culture of marginalization that pollutes our Legislature is an insult to all Montanans and should be set aside. To that end I am working on legislation for the 2015 session that would require the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate to process bills in a predictable and timely manner.

Additionally, I am working on legislation that would ensure that an open, transparent and accountable process is used for assigning senators to legislative committees.

Both bills would contribute to ending the culture of marginalization that corrupts our Legislature. It should be seen as almost criminal that nearly 40 percent of the bills that pass during a legislative session could be delivered to a governor after any opportunity for useful discussion between the executive and legislative branches has passed. It is criminal for legislative committees to meet in secret.

Both parties at fault

The Legislature’s longstanding culture of marginalization has been chronically supported by both parties. It represents a clumsy, simple-minded, and excessively partisan approach to governance and is a disservice to our great state. It should be set aside in favor of a culture of collaboration based on gracefulness and spirited competitions of ideas.

I write in hopes that you will support my efforts to redress this loathsome problem. My efforts will fail without obvious public support. I remind you, as first observed by the great conservationist David Brower, that “politicians are like weather vanes and our job is to make the wind blow.”

Democrat Mike Phillips of Bozeman represents Senate District 33.

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