Senator Jeff Welborn’s Weekly Report
After three days off last week for a transmittal break, the Montana Legislature is back in the State Capitol to kick off the second half of our 68th session.
While I was back in SW Montana for transmittal break, I had a chance to attend the George Grant Trout Unlimited Banquet, and visit with Labor Union Leaders in Butte, which is in the Northern most part of my Senate District. I also had a chance to discuss Grizzly Bear and Wolf management with ranchers the Madison and Ruby Valleys, I spoke at the Beaverhead GOP Lincoln-Reagan dinner in Dillon, and talked water policy changes with local ranchers, thanks to all for taking the time to discuss issues important to you.
Now moving on to the second half of the session, Thursday was a fairly slow start to the final 45 days, as the Senate held only a brief floor session. The House returned to the floor on Friday. Moving forward, the action is going to pick up quickly.
Out of 1,413 bills introduced at the Legislature so far, it appears about a quarter, or well over 300 general bills, failed to clear their first chamber before the transmittal
deadline, meaning they’re likely dead. However, bills that appropriate money or raise or lower state revenues don’t have to pass through their first house until the 67th legislative day, which is about a month from now.
The only committee meeting on Thursday was the full House Appropriations Committee, which is continuing work on House Bill 2, the main state budget bill. During the meeting, lawmakers discussed the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services budget, by far the biggest section of HB 2.
We as a group of appropriations and finance sub committee chairs and vice chairs met as a group on Saturday morning, to discuss details of each agency budget, with the Governor’s office of budget planning, ahead of HB 2 being voted on, first in the House, before it moves too the Senate for our deliberations.
Committee leaders expect to take action on HB 2 next week, to get it finalized before it gets a hearing on the House floor.
Also up for discussion in the second half of the session will be proposals to amend the Montana Constitution, which share the later transmittal deadline. Six proposed amendments are currently introduced and active in the Legislature, including proposals to establish a right to hunt and trap using “current means and methods,” add “constitutional carry” to the document’s right to bear arms, and revise the Montana Board of Regents’ authority in response to recent court cases that limited how the Legislature could set laws
affecting state college campuses. Several other amendment proposals are ready to be submitted.
Any proposal to amend the Constitution must receive support from 100 lawmakers – two-thirds of the Legislature – to be put on the next general election ballot. If all 102 members of the Republican supermajority vote together, they can put an amendment in front of voters. To date, I haven’t signed onto, nor agreed to support any changes to our Constitution.
The proposed constitutional change that would embed Montanans right to hunt, fish and trap into our constitution, has raised both support and concerns from many of you. Let me be clear, I support hunting, fishing trapping, and all of our outdoor heritage as much as anyone, but I feel this proposal sets dangerous precedent, here are questions raised in my mind;
From a private property rights perspective you don’t let someone hunt on your land, can they then take you to court? Or if you’re out hunting with family, and shoot an elk that someone else has been stalking, can they have you arrested for interfering with their right to hunt? Or how about non- residents, under equal protection clause of Montana's constitution, could they then be entitled to same tags that we as Montanas can procure over the counter, in the same manner, for same price and without being in a drawing?
Worse yet, could residents and non-residents alike take game or fish, out of season should it become a right?
Due to all of these unanswered questions, and lack of case law to give us perspective, I feel hunting, fishing and trapping should remain a privilege, but not a right. One that you keep by following the law, or lose when you don’t.
In closing, the Legislature also has to sort out the many policy bills that did move forward before transmittal. They include a flurry of bills dealing with zoning and housing availability, proposals to change election rules and judicial procedures and bills for establishing charter schools in the state. I will do my best to keep an keep an eye on these issues and more, as we move into the last two plus months of the 68th session.