Legislative Update: Thursday, Feb. 2

capitol-logoGovernor issues first veto of session

By Freddy Monares

Gov. Steve Bullock has vetoed the first bill of the 2017 Montana legislative session and offered up an amendment to decrease a raise in legislator pay.

House Bill 1 would have increased the legislators’ pay by 14 percent for the next legislative session. Bullock amended the bill with an increase of only 1.4 percent, to coincide with the rate of inflation.

He says the state needs to “live within its means.”

“At the same time that we’re tightening the belt of the rest of government, the legislative branch sent me a bill to increase the spending of their branch of government by 14 percent,” Bullock said.

Republican Rep. Nancy Ballance said she was blindsided by the veto.

“Half of the amount that he cut was actually, he approved last session as an increase,” she said. “He signed it into law. It was an increase for legislators’ stipend so that they could use it for travel.”

The bill will now go back to the House and Senate to be read with the governor’s proposed amendments.

 

Vape prohibitions decried

Some e-cigarette users in Montana say Senate Bill 147’s inclusion of electronic cigarettes and vaping products in the list of prohibited tobacco items in the Clean Indoor Air Act is a step backward for them.

Belgrade vape shop-owner Deanna Marshall opposes the bill.

“I then found the e-cigarette vape products and it actually work for me the first time,” Marshall said. “I mean, I really thought that I was just going to die of smoking cigarettes.”

Opponents of the bill say it should be the right of property owners to determine the use of those products on their properties.

Bob Vogel, representing the Montana School Board Association, said he supports the bill. He said school policy is vague because it reflects state law, which is also vague.

“We believe that Senate Bill 147 would clarify this and strengthen this policy, and in fact have it based on statute,” Vogel said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard the bill Thursday but did not immediately vote on it.

Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.

 

Political practices post could be eliminated

By Cole Grant

A bill in the Montana House would eliminate the Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices. The bill would turn the commissioner’s duties over to two elected officials, rather than one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, said the office wields too much power for one person. House Bill 340 would split up the duties of the commissioner between the attorney general and secretary of state.

“If you’re answerable to the public in everything you do and we split the power amongst two players, Montana is served in the watchdog capacity,” he said.

The Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices was established in 1975.

The position, now held by Jonathan Motl, monitors, enforces and investigates political practices. On Wednesday, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that Motl’s term ended Jan. 1, but Motl can continue to serve until the Senate confirms a replacement.

The House Judiciary Committee will hear HB 340 Friday morning.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.

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