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Government & Politics

Montana's House Lawmakers Allow Committee Heads To Block Bill Hearings

Lawmakers talk after the Montana Legislature rules committee adjourned, December 08, 2020.
Lawmakers talk after the Montana Legislature rules committee adjourned, December 08, 2020.

Montana lawmakers clashed this week over how best to conduct the 2021 legislative session. One change going into effect could determine what bills get a hearing in the House. 

The House Rules Committee adopted a new rule to let committee heads, who are all Republican, dictate if a proposed bill gets a hearing.

Previous rules dictated that all bills get a hearing if introduced. The committee agreed to the change on a 12-7 vote. 

Republican Rep. Matt Regier of Kalispell proposed the amendment.

Regier said it’s designed to make policy-making more efficient, and that a majority vote from committee members can overturn a chair’s decision. 

"Right now we currently have 1,812 bill drafts. We have a lot of bill drafts that, that we need efficiency as it goes through the committee."

Democrats opposed the amendment, saying it makes the legislative process less transparent and blocks the public from commenting on bills that don’t get a hearing. 

Rep. Robert Farris-Olsen, a Democrat from Helena, said he understands the need for efficiency. 

"However, I don’t think we can use efficiency as a means to silence, not only representatives, senators, but also the public."

Montana lawmakers will discuss more rule changes, including how the Legislature will gather amid the pandemic, next Wednesday, Dec. 16. 

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