Volume 26, Issue 15
Published April 18, 2021

There’s Not Enough Tinfoil in Montana for This Week’s Issue

An Update & Unsolicited Perspectives Provided by Shantil Siaperas, MACo Communications Director & Editor of MACo’s Legislative Update

(If you’re not interested in the meandering thoughts of a rambling lobbyist
and just want to check out the next issue of MACo’s Legislative update, I sympathize.
Click the button below for instant access to our latest issue.)

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Last week was a whirlwind of a wild and weird Legislative week. Is that new? No. Is it expected? Yes. So, who cares? You do. And I’ll tell you why…

Initial Recap

So, there we all were—legislators, lobbyists, association advocates, and legislative staff—just laboring away as per usual in the final weeks of a legislative session prior to a big transmittal deadline.

Another transmittal? Yes. Friday, April 16th, Legislative Day (LD) 73, was to be the deadline for transmitting amendments to General Bills.

What does that mean? It means that any amended General Bills (bills that don’t have an appropriation or revenue attached) need to transmit back to their House-of-origin. So, Senate bills need to return home from the House, and House bills need return home from the Senate by the time the gavel falls on LD 73.

Easy enough…or so you would think…

Enter: 2020’s Evil Spawn (2021) & The Continuation of the COVID-19 Saga

According to several news sources, there was a situation where a “member of the government affairs community” i.e., a lobbyist (we’re getting fancy with our terminology here) was diagnosed with COVID.

It was stated that the Legislature’s contact tracer requires time to do her work, so Legislative Leadership decide to postpone LD 73’s House and Senate Floor Sessions—Friday’s Committees could still meet virtually if they wanted…

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

First, We Review the True Facts

COVID During the 67th Legislative Session

1.  Social Distancing is a Suggestion: Legislators share small offices and sit VERY closely to one another every day in both committees and during floor sessions. By contact-tracing standards, they are an easily exposable group of individuals, should one of them contract COVID.

2.  Several Individuals Have Contracted COVID: There have been 6 known Montana Legislators, 2 MACo Association Advocates, 1 Montana Governor, and several lobbyists, legislative staff, and members of the public diagnosed with COVID- since the start of the 67th Legislative Session on January 4th.

3.  The Legislature Has NOT Skipped a Beat: The Legislative Session has not yet eased up, paused, or postponed any business for any prior COVID diagnosis of any legislator, lobbyist, association advocate, legislative staffer, or Montana Governor. (It’s almost like there’s a point to prove, but I can’t quite place it…)

  • The Legislature has introduced just over the average number of bills usually introduced when looking back since 2001:
    – Average Introduced Bills Since 2001 = 1,297
    – 2021 Introduced Bills = 1,298 (just 1 more than the average)
Timeline: Noteworthy Happenings Up-to & After Announcement of COVID Situation

1.  Wednesday, April 14: During the “Announcement of Committee Meetings” agenda item of the House Floor Session, Representative Mark Noland announced that “members” (not clarifying who) would be convening at 6:30 a.m. the following morning and to “be there early,” because they had “a lot of work to do.” He then announced that his committee (Business & Labor) would be convening at 8:30 a.m.

2.  Thursday, April 15

  • Morning: A meeting of the “members” at 6:30 a.m.
  • Afternoon: Representative Barry Usher announced that the House Judiciary Committee would not convene again until Tuesday, April 20th.
    – Besides Senate Finance & Claims, House Judiciary has the most bills on their list of “bills in committee.”
  • Evening: The Legislature’s COVID Response Panel learned that a member of the government affairs community (a lobbyist) had been diagnosed with COVID, and a press release is disseminated.
    – The press release stated that Friday’s House & Senate Floor Sessions would be postponed.
    – The press release also announced that committees could meet virtually, but legislators would not be meeting in person.

3.  Friday, April 16

  • Several committees convened: Senate Finance & Claims, Senate Local Government, Senate Natural Resources, House Natural Resources, and the Special Joint Select Committee on Judicial Transparency & Accountability.
    – All committees (except the Special Joint Select Committee on Judicial Transparency & Accountability) had at least one member attend in person while others were virtual; those in-person were socially distanced.

  • The GOP sent a press release stating that the Legislature would also be postponing Monday’s House & Senate Floor Sessions and that committees would be convening virtually.
  • Legislative Leadership revised the Session Calendar to change LD 73 from Friday, April 16th to Tuesday, April 20th.
Updated Legislative Session Calendar
  • April 20:  Transmittal of amendments to General Bills (Day 73)
  • April 28:   Last day to introduce Study resolutions (Day 79)
  • April 29:   Transmittal of amendments to Appropriation Bills, Revenue Bills, and Revenue Estimating Resolution, as well as Bills Proposing Referenda (Day 80)
  • May 3:      Transmittal of amendments to Revenue Estimating Joint Resolution (Day 82)
  • May 6:      Transmittal of Interim Study Resolutions (Day 85)
  • May 13:    Sine Die (Day 90 = End of Session)
Timeline: Movement of Important Legislation

1.  Wednesday, April 14: Various Senate Rules were suspended through LD 73 to “allow for flexibility.”

  • Rules Suspended: 40-40 (Reading limitations), 40-60 (Scheduling for second reading), 50-190 (Third reading procedure), and SJR 40-150 (Engrossing). Senate Rules & Senate Joint Rules.

2.  Thursday, April 15: The Beast (HB 632, i.e. the ARPA appropriation bill) passed the Senate Floor on both 2nd and 3rd reading and returned to the House.

  • Without suspension of the rules, the Senate would not have been able to conduct both 2nd and 3rd Reading on the same LD.
  • The Beast is an amended Appropriation Bill, so its transmittal deadline isn’t until LD 80. Only amended General Bills are required to transmit on LD 73.

3.  Also on Thursday, April 15: SB 318 (Revise laws relating to the judiciary), one of the final significant bills regarding the Montana’s Judiciary, failed 2nd Reading.

  • If you haven’t been paying attention, bills regarding the Judiciary have a particular zombie-esque quality this session (they just keep coming back).

4.  Tuesday, April 20: The House & Senate will tentatively convene.

5.  Wednesday, April 21: The Free Conference Committee for State’s Budget Bill (HB 2) is scheduled to meet.

  • Conference Committee vs. Free Conference Committee: If the amendments to a bill are rejected on second reading, the first chamber may ask a conference committee to resolve the differences between the versions passed by the House and Senate. While a Conference Committee may only accept, reject, or amend the disputed amendments, a Free Conference Committee can propose amendments to a bill in its entirety and is not confined to debating a particular amendment. However, the committee is only able to consider amendments that are within the scope of the title of the introduced bill.

6.  Week of April 19-23: Chair Osmundson has stated that the Senate Finance & Claims Committee will conduct EA on HB 2’s companion bills this week.

Time to Draw Some Conclusions…

Now that we’re done reviewing all the true facts, let me grab my trusty, never-dusty-this-session, tinfoil hat and begin my well-educated pontifications…

[throat clear, ahem] Here we go.

Recap After All Those True Facts

Besides Senate Finance & Claims, House Judiciary has the most bills on their list of “bills in committee,” and they rarely miss convening on a Legislative Day. That changed on Thursday, April 15th, after an early morning “member meeting” to do “some important work,” when Chair Barry Usher announced that afternoon on the House Floor that his committee would not meet again until Tuesday, April 20th.

Then that evening the “COVID situation” was revealed, and Friday’s Floor Sessions were postponed. The next morning, the GOP put out a press release announcing the postponement of Monday’s Floor Sessions, and Legislative Leadership revised the Session Calendar showing LD 73 as Tuesday, April 20th.

Activate Convenient Situation

The Legislature has been moving like a freight train, full steam ahead, for the last 72 LDs. Then suddenly, transmittal of amended General Bills rolls around, and priority bills are dying on the floor, some are getting tabled in committee, and others need to get to a conference committee ASAP (the State Budget Bill and the Beast being two of them that are now both in possession of the House).

“Oh no, what do we do?” says the Legislature…

Initiate Code Charlie Sierra, (i.e., Convenient Situation or COVID Situation): A lobbyist with COVID-19 enters the Capitol Building. “Emergency. Push pause. Go home. We’ll call you back when we know more…And we already updated the Session Calendar.” (Whoops.)

Engaging code Charlie Sierra is currently giving the Legislature 4+ days to possibly get negotiations underway/completed and begin drafting amendments for bills.

Furthermore, HB 632 will likely be on the House Floor for concurrence of the Senate Amendments during the first House Floor session when they return. Representative Garner will make a motion to not concur on the Senate Amendments. The motion will pass. The bill will go to a Free Conference Committee in lockstep with HB 2, and the two committees will be able to coordinate more efficiently.

Side Notes

Lobbyists run all over the place and have many conversations, lunches, dinners, and drinks with countless numbers of people.  If a lobbyist with several clients and/or bills were to contract COVID-19, MANY people would be categorized as “close contacts.”

In a situation such as this, contact tracers would need more time than just a couple of hours to track down and notify all individuals before everyone starts coming back into the Capitol building spreading their nasty little germs around.

Lastly, the occurrence in question involves a real COVID positive person as well as real people outside of the Legislature speaking to actual close contacts, AND the Lewis & Clark County Public Health Department is confirmed as trying to gather the entire scope of said situation.

HOWEVER, those true facts that help present the possible validity of what is currently occurring do not support my narrative, so I’m excluding them. Good trick. Very effective from both sides of any argument.

Back to our regularly scheduled meanderings…

Further Miscellaneous Yet Nonetheless True Facts

1.  Eric Bryson, MACo Executive Director, is quarantining as a close contact of someone who has COVID-19.

2.  The Legislature’s intent was to Sine Die on April 28th, which just so happened to be the day after LD 80, i.e., Transmittal of Amended Appropriation & Revenue Bills.

  • Important amended Appropriation & Revenue Bills include HB 632 (the Beast) and HB 2 (state budget) as well as all of HB 2’s companion bills.

3.  The new deadline for the transmittal of Amended Appropriation & Revenue Bills is April 29th. This could mean possible adjournment on April 30th.

4.  My husband’s birthday is April 30th.

My Official Theories

Conspiracy Theory #1

I have been an association advocate with MACo since 2010, and this would have been the first Legislative Session that concluded prior to my husbands’ birthday. Upon learning of the April 28th goal for Sine Die, we were tentatively excited to do something that didn’t include me ignoring him (for the Legislature).

The Legislature clearly discovered the error of their ways, held a special meeting, activated the plan generated by the COVID Response Panel (a panel that was created for just such an emergency), and pushed everything forward to remedy their mistake.

Touché. You win again.

Conspiracy Theory #2

The Legislature loves Eric Bryson so much that upon learning of his absence, they pushed the Legislative Calendar forward in time, so they could see him again upon the completion of his quarantine.

100% plausible.

So, those are my two completely legitimate theories regarding the recent happenings on the hill. The facts are all there. Everything lines up. I’m convinced. You can’t change my mind. And I’m definitely never going to stop trying to change yours…

If TV, the internet, and social media have taught me anything in recent years, it’s that unwavering and unquestioning dedication is key, especially in conspiracy theories; and talking louder will absolutely make people hear me…I plan to implement what I’ve learned soon. Stay tuned for how well that turns out…or maybe just be ready with bail money?

Public Service Announcement

Conspiracy theories are fun—particularly when they surround politics and government (and aliens). However, they can also be hurtful and even harmful. We all should be wary of how far we go in our theorizing and keep in mind that there are often real people at the other end of our spoken thoughts. Thoughts we should often keep to ourselves.

Old Adages Worth Remembering: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all; do unto others as you would have done unto you; and most importantly, history is much more a product of chaos than of conspiracy.

With that I send my sincerest apologies to my husband for dragging him into this, the Legislature for assuming there is a conspiracy to theorize about, and Director Bryson for poking fun of his second quarantine………In four months. Haha. Sorry.

I also apologize to all of you if I stirred any feelings of hope that the Legislature may adjourn early. Probably best to just bury those feelings…way WAY down deep.

In Conclusion…

The biggest true fact and most important takeaway from this week’s meanderings is that Legislative Leadership updated the session calendar, AGAIN.

Sine Die is now May THIRTEENTH (spelled out and capitalized for emphasis).

The THIRTEENTH is a Thursday as opposed to a Friday—one mere day away from being an even more fitting time-and-place-in-history.

Excuse me while I channel my mother: I’m not angry. I’m just disappointed.

Feels familiar.

(I will now be calling Mom to apologize…)

And Don’t Forget…

If you find yourself on uneven footing during the legislative session at any time, no worries. We’re here to help keep you apprised of what’s happening on the hill. Every week until Sine Die during these trying and perplexing times, we’ll be releasing a new issue of the MACo Legislative Update (linked below and above).

Each issue always has an up-to-date session calendar, an easy-to-print bill hearings schedule for the upcoming week, and the status of bills we’re watching or in which we’re actively involved. Pro Tip: Our website’s hearing schedule will be updated daily as the week progresses and new hearings are added, so be sure to check that out. It also has links to testify remotely and/or submit written public comment.

Don’t forget to check out the bills section, where you’ll be able to follow the status of MACo’s legislation, as well as track the growing list of bills in which we are monitoring and/or actively participating.

Click the button below to check out the new issue.

For other pertinent information regarding the legislative session, visit the policy section of our website.

See you either virtually via the internet highway or in the halls!

PS: 17 legislative days remaining

(The Legislative Update is linked below.)
Questions? We Got you!

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Eric Bryson, MACo Executive Director:  406-461-2084, ebryson@mtcounties.org

Jason Rittal, MACo Deputy Director:  406- 698-3255, jrittal@mtcounties.org

Shantil Siaperas, MACo Communications Director:  406-925-1134, shantil@mtcounties.org