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MT House Rs want to allow committee chairs to kill bills

Full House could vote on change in January
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Posted at 5:54 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 19:54:08-05

HELENA — Republican members of a Montana House rules panel voted Tuesday to allow GOP committee chairs at the 2021 Legislature to not schedule hearings on any bill, essentially allowing them to kill bills without a vote.

Under the pending rule change, members of the committee could still vote to overrule the chair and force a hearing on a bill -- but that would require the unlikely scenario of Republicans, who control large majorities on all committees, of going against their own Republican chair.

Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, said the proposed change is a way to make the process more “streamlined and efficient,” so committees aren’t forced to spend time on bills going nowhere.

“I do think it’s kind of egregious how we just sort of shove things in at the very end, and bills are getting jokes of a hearing,” he said. “Let’s make the stuff that is relevant, that we have to get done, and let’s get it done.”

Under current House rules, every bill that’s introduced must be scheduled for a committee hearing and vote.

The House Rules Committee, on a 12-7 party-line vote with Republicans in favor, voted Tuesday to change that rule, giving committee chairs the discretion not to hold hearings or votes on bills of their choosing.

Rules Committee chair, Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, also said that members could re-examine the proposal when the panel meets again next week.

That change won’t take effect unless it’s adopted in January by the full House, when it convenes for the 2021 Legislature. However, if Republicans favor the change, it will certainly pass, as they hold a 67-33 majority.

Rules Committee chair, Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, also said
Democrats on the House Rules Committee objected to the change Tuesday, saying it’s allowing lawmakers to forego their responsibility to consider and act on proposals before them.

“We are tasked with looking at ways to improve the state of Montana by passing bills, or, if it’s a bad bill, by failing them,” said Rep. Robert Farris-Olsen, D-Helena. “By not hearing them or not voting on them, I think we’re abdicating our responsibility.”

But Regier said multiple other state legislatures have rules that give committee chairs the discretion to schedule bills for hearings or votes.

“This just leaves it up to the committee,” he said, noting that it can still vote to override the chair’s decision. “This strengthens the power of the committees.