New lawmakers learning ropes as 2013 Legislature begins

2013-01-14T00:00:00Z 2013-03-12T15:21:11Z New lawmakers learning ropes as 2013 Legislature beginsBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
January 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

HELENA — Freshman Reps. Amanda Curtis and Daniel Zolnikov are soaking up all of the training offered to learn how to become legislators.

Curtis, 33, is a high school math teacher from Butte. She’s married and said she and her husband “haven’t been blessed with any kids yet.”

Zolnikov, who turns 26 later this month, is a small-business consultant from Billings. He’s single.

She’s a Democrat and he’s a Republican.

They are among the 39 newcomers in the 100-member House.

Neither had spent much time in the Capitol previously.

“I’d been around, barely,” Zolnikov said.

“I probably have been on a tour of the building,” Curtis said.

Both are immersed in the extensive on-the-job training offered by the legislative staff, their committees and their separate party caucuses.

“I’m enjoying it so much,” Curtis said. “Education is at my heart. I am so happy to be at the receiving end.”

Zolnikov said he expected the “information load” freshmen are receiving.

“I spend a lot of time going through the material,” he said. “I get the pile down before it grows.”

He said he’s been impressed by the various organizations that have contacted him and sent him material before and after the election.

The House leaders assigned him between two legislators, Reps. Mike Miller, R-Helmville, who’s in his third term, and Liz Bangerter, R-Helena, who’s in her second term.

“Legislators have already pulled me aside,” he said.

Curtis praised the legislative staff for doing a “fabulous” job training new lawmakers.

“They drop everything when you come in,” she said, adding that there are “no wrong doors” when legislators ask questions.

She said the House Democrats are encouraging members to practice presenting bills to before a mock committee.

That way, Curtis said, “when you go before a committee, you’ve done a lot.”

She’s also been spending time online, watching committee hearings from past sessions.

This session, Curtis is serving on the House Business and Labor, Human Services and Local Government committees.

Zolnikov is a member of the House Federal Relations, Energy and Telecommunications, Local Government and Taxation committees.

Curtis has introduced five bills, including one to redirect Montana Lottery profits from the state general fund to to a college scholarship fund.

Zolnikov hasn’t introduced any bills yet, but is having some drafted. He said he will focus on five of them.

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