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House Republicans reach rules compromise on 2019 Montana Legislature’s opening day

Posted at 5:18 PM, Jan 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-07 19:40:30-05

HELENA – On the opening day of Montana’s 2019 Legislature, House Republicans Monday agreed to key rule changes they said would lead to a more “open and transparent process” on controversial bills before the body.

The agreement, worked out in a private Sunday meeting among Republican factions in the House, won party-line approval on the session’s first substantive vote, 58-42. All Republicans voted for it and all Democrats opposed it.

The new, temporary rules – which likely will become permanent later this week – reduced from 60 to 58 the number of votes needed to “blast” a bill from committee and bring it to the floor.

Democrats and some Republicans had pressed for having a simple majority vote on a “blast” motion, to make it easier to overrule a committee they felt was unfairly holding up a bill supported a majority of House members.

But, according to those who pressed for the rule changes, more important elements of the new rules now allow a simple majority – 51 votes – to overturn actions by the speaker on bill assignments.

Rep. Nance Ballance, R-Hamilton

“We wanted a level playing field, making sure that everyone had a fair opportunity to get their bill to the floor,” said Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, who helped negotiate the changes. “And I think we’ve absolutely done that in this (change).”

Monday’s vote by Republicans to change the House rules headed off a potential floor showdown between moderate and more conservative factions of the GOP majority.

Moderate Republicans had feared that leadership might work to bottle up controversial bills in “kill committees” – even though those measures might have support from a majority of the body.

House Speaker Greg Hertz, R-Polson, who had initially opposed changing the rules, said the compromise showed that Republicans can work together and be united in working toward “limited government, lower taxes and making Montana a better place to live, work and do business.”

“This action today allows us to work on important issues that are facing our state,” he said. “These rules are designed for a fair, open and transparent process.”

House Democrats opposed the change, saying a simple majority of the House should be able to override any action on a bill in committee.

“It’s disappointing that our colleagues across the aisle have decided to institute an arbitrary and insufficient rule change, rather than allow the majority of Montanans to have a voice in this chamber,” said House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner in a statement.

Story by Mike Dennison, MTN News