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Montana Republicans Push For Legislative Rule Changes Over Democrats' Objections

A screen shot from a video feed shows lawmakers seated at intervals around tables arranged in a horse shoe. One is wearing a mask.
Montana Public Affairs Network
Republican members of the Montana Joint House and Senate Rules Committee meet at the capitol on Sept. 24, 2020.

Montana Republican lawmakers are pushing forward with rule changes for the legislature that could tip the balance of power in some interim committee decisions and change the way new rules for statehouse operations are set. Democrats are calling foul and threatening a lawsuit over what they’re calling a power grab.

Republican members of the Joint House and Senate Rules Committee are polling the entire Montana Legislature on three new rules to govern their actions.

Republican Rep. Derek Skees of Kalispell said one of the proposed rule changes would provide lawmakers more power to check what he calls unconstitutional actions by the executive branch.

“If we pass it and it goes to the body of the whole and the body of the whole passes it, it allows your state Legislature to finally have a voice in the unilateral mandates that have been passed down without consulting us,” Skees said.

In an interview with YPR after the committee meeting, Skees said Republicans are frustrated with directives from Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock during the pandemic to allow all mail ballot elections, direct federal aid funds and close school doors.

Democrats refused to participate in Thursday’s meeting, which Democratic Rep. Kim Dudik of Missoula condemned.

“And there’s absolutely no excuse for this group’s attempts through an illegitimate process without precedent to create rules that allow the Legislature to ignore Montana law," Dudik said.

A Montana Democratic Party spokesperson says the party will move forward with a lawsuit against Republican committee members’ move to change the legislature’s rules.

A legislative attorney says there are ambiguities in state law as to what actions the committee can take.

Lawmakers have until Oct. 9 to respond to the poll on proposed rule changes.