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Elected Officials Start Legislative Session With Calls For Civility

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Jackie Yamanaka
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Governor Steve Bullock and the other statewide elected officials took their oaths of office and were sworn in during a ceremony that had to be moved inside to the Capitol Rotunda because of bitter cold temperatures.

A standing room only crowd, that included many legislators, watched as Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath administered the oaths for Justice Jim Shea, Justice Dirk Sandefur, Attorney General Tim Fox, state School Superintendent Elsie Arntzen, state Auditor Matt Rosendale, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney, and Governor Steve Bullock. All were elected during last Fall’s general election.

Bullock welcomed all 150 members of the 65th Legislature on what was also the opening day of the session. He said they share the honor of representing Montana. Bullock urged them to remember they’re more than just Democrats or Republicans, they share the title Montanans.

“And Montanans elected us to serve not to score political points by putting their interests aside,” he said.

The Democrat is optimistic elected officials can work together to pass a responsible budget and further grow the Montana economy. Bullock said basically they all want the same things, like good paying jobs that will support our families, “We want our sons and daughters to be treated fairly and get a good education. We want to enjoy our clean air and our water and our public lands. We want to feel safe and be safe in our communities. We want to worship where and how we chose. We want to love who we chose without fear of discrimination.”

Bullock is the lone Democrat to survive last fall’s general election for the top four statewide offices. He also faces Republican majorities in both chambers at the Montana Legislature.

House Majority Leader Ron Ehli, R- called for an open dialogue between the Legislative and Executive branches of government. He noted, the stairways and elevators in the Capitol go up as well as down. The Governor’s office is on the 2nd floor, while lawmakers largely occupy the 3rd floor.

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Credit Jackie Yamanaka
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Rep. Jon Knokey, R-Bozeman, shares a quiet moment with his daughter Avary before he and all members of the Montana House take their oath of office to start the 65th Legislature.

“We would like to extend an open invitation to the governor to visit the 3rd floor of the Capitol on occasion,” said Ehli. “For this is where the true representation of Montana’s peoples resides. We will encourage the governor to use caution, whether in threat or action, in wielding the power of his veto pen.”

It’s a reference to the fact Bullock issued 53 vetoes during and after the 2015 Legislative session; 71 came from the 2013 session. An analysis by the Lee State Bureau said that was the most vetoes by any administration in two consecutive legislative sessions.

The Montana Legislature convenes every other year for the scheduled 90-day session, that tentatively concludes April 29, 2017.