HELENA — Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock are all saying they want to get along this session — plans that could be tested by a long list of controversial issues.
The House and Senate leaders say their focus will be on core issues like spurring more natural resource development and revamping education funding. They are urging members of the majority caucus to bring forward solutions that matter to Montanans — and can get the signature of a Democratic governor.
"I am hoping that we can dedicate ourselves on focusing on issues that matter to the people of Montana," incoming Senate President Jeff Essmann, a Billings businessman, said in a recent interview.
His counterpart in the House, Somers restaurant owner Mark Blasdel, said he wants substantive action and not fiery rhetoric.
"I look forward to having a productive, workmanlike session," said Blasdel. "Obviously there will be disagreements, but they don't have to be nasty or anything like that."
But potentially standing in the way of easy relations could be dozens of pending proposals from individual lawmakers certain to rile the other side.
Republican lawmakers are again making plans to bring back ideas lampooned by their opponents, such as the Tea Party-favored notion of nullifying distasteful federal laws. And some Democrats are bringing forward individual proposals likely to draw the ire of the socially conservative Republicans, such as a prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The issue of nullifying federal laws led to some of the most emotional floor debates last session — and became a fixture of Democratic criticism of the GOP majority.
Rep. Krayton Kerns, a Laurel veterinarian, is carrying the idea again — along with others certain to spark a strong reaction from minority Democrats. The conservative chairman of the judiciary committee holds an influential position to make sure his bills, which include issues dealing with state sovereignty and expanding gun rights, at least make it to the House floor.
Other familiar and sticky issues will be returning, such as GOP proposals to limit the spread of wolves and bison and to reduce the state's environmental protection laws. And some Democrats are eyeing changes to the GOP-led crackdown on medical marijuana that was endorsed by voters in November.
Other unsettled issues dealing with court decisions on eminent domain and physician-assisted suicide promise to create lively debate, and occasional cross-aisle allegiances.
Even some core financial issues will test each party's leadership.
The state pensions system still faces a shortfall and partisan divides remain on the fix. And ongoing state implementation of federal health care reform, denounced by most Republicans as too costly, will likely lead to more arguments on a familiar topic.
How these issues are handled could in large part be dictated by the new leaders for each side.
Bullock has already promised a veto pen for any bills he views as out of the mainstream, pointing to last session's "gold standard" discussion among newly elected Tea Party-backed legislators as an example.
Republicans are hoping that the new Democratic governor won't be as flamboyant about that as outgoing Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who famously lit fire to dozens of GOP proposals with a "VETO" hot brand.
Both Blasdell and Essmann said they will let individual lawmakers and committees decide which bills to bring forward and advance. Neither said they will use the position to squelch ideas.
Still, Blasdell is hoping for an efficient session and encouraging his members to bring forward those ideas sought by constituents back home — with the realization that there is a Democratic governor.
Essmann said he is going to let specific proposals "bubble up" from the process and doesn't plan to dictate a specific leadership agenda — although there are some broad areas he will be pushing.
Both Blasdell and Essmann said they want to find a way to use natural resource development revenue to help eastern Montana build the infrastructure needed to deal with sprawling development and the proliferation of man camps. They are hoping to get Bullock's approval.