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Montana Lawmakers Reconsider Internet Regulation Bill After Abnormal Saturday Meeting

Rep. Derek Skees (R) HD-11.
Montana Legislature
Rep. Derek Skees (R) HD-11.

Montana lawmakers have reversed a vote and now are rejecting a policy that would add regulations for internet providers following the bill’s passage over the weekend when only Republicans on the committee were in attendance to vote.

When Republican Rep. Derek Skees gaveled in the House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations committee meeting Saturday morning, Democrats, who were participating remotely, were not present. 

Skees noted that there were enough Republicans there for a quorum, and the committee unanimously voted to revive and pass House Bill 492. It would require internet providers to offer service to customers that doesn’t contain pornography. 

On Monday, Skees apologized and said taking that action without Democrats participating was a mistake. He said it was a misunderstanding. 

"In my mind, I thought the Democratic caucus was playing a game with us on Saturday to try to block us from having a quorum. I got frustrated and rammed it through. And that’s not right. I should not have done that," Skees said.

Democrats were caucusing before the meeting started, and said the start time of the hearing wasn’t clear. After Saturday’s meeting, House Minority Leader Kim Abbott said in a statement that what happened was a "outrageous affront to House norms."

Democratic Rep. Katie Sullivan thanked Skees on Monday for reconvening the meeting. 

"Allowing us to voice the vote of our constituents is important and we appreciate having the chance to voice that vote."

Upon reconsideration, House Bill 492 was voted down 9-3 and then tabled, with some Republicans flipping their vote from yes to no. 

Republican House Majority Leader Sue Vinton said on the House floor Monday that her caucus would double down on upholding norms and decorum. Skees said in committee he wanted to reiterate that sentiment. 

The calls to uphold legislative norms come in the middle of a busy two weeks. Lawmakers are trying to hear and vote on hundreds of bills before a Wednesday deadline when policy bills have to move from one chamber to the other, or die by default. 

Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.