Panel tables bills to reduce size of Legislature

2013-01-15T18:15:00Z 2013-01-16T00:03:44Z Panel tables bills to reduce size of LegislatureBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette

HELENA — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday tabled two bills aimed at reducing the size of the Montana House to 80 members from 100 and the Senate to 40 members from the current 50.

Senate Bill 97, by Sen. Jason Priest, R-Red Lodge, would have put a constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot asking voters to authorize the reduction in the size of the Legislature.

A companion measure, SB98, would have set up a two-step process needed to implement it because senators run for four-year terms, with half up for election every two years. The bill wouldn’t have taken effect until the mid-2020s, after the next legislative redistricting, if legislators had approved it and voters adopted it.

No one testified for or against Priest’s bills.

Priest called his proposals “good government” ideas that would make elections more competitive, improve the relationships between lawmakers that have suffered since term limits were implemented and reduce the number of bills introduced.

Reduced costs from cutting the number of legislators was probably the least important reason for the bill, he said.

Sen. Anders Blewett, D-Great Falls, opposed the idea, saying, “This is a solution to a problem that I don’t think exists.”

Sen. Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, disagreed, saying Priest’s proposal “makes real good common sense.”

Sen. Shannon Augare, D-Browning, said that if the number of legislators is reduced, it would decrease the number of Native Americans serving in the House and Senate.

“It might reduce the number of (Native American) representatives,” Priest said. “I’m not convinced proportionately there would be any less representation.”

SB97 failed 5-6, with committee Chairman Terry Murphy, R-Caldwell, joining the committee’s Democrats in opposing the bill, while the Republicans present supported it.

“I’ve always opposed to this concept and still do,” Murphy said.

After HB97 failed, the committee tabled it 6-5 and then tabled SB98 unanimously.

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