Volume 26, Issue 17
Published June 1, 2021
The End. And a New Beginning…
A Final 67th Legislative Session 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 final issue of MACo’s Legislative Update, I sympathize.
Click the button below for instant access to our last issue.)
Hi, hello, how are ya? It’s been a hot minute since I last graced the interface of your selected internet-capable device. Where have I been? Nowhere. Recuperating. Recovering. Sleeping. Thinking…
Thinking about how exactly to bid farewell to the 67th Legislature and it’s…very unique and interesting Legislative Session.
We came into 2021’s Legislative Session during a pandemic. Anyone remember that? The brain protects the mind in moments of duress, so it might be a little hazy. Don’t worry. I’m here to help.
To begin, I think we can all agree that there really isn’t anything comparable in life to politics in a pandemic…except maybe a root canal, stubbing a toe, hitting the funny bone, and getting dirt in your eye all at the same time…or maybe being attacked by a hybrid bear-shark.
Speaking of Hybrid…
This year the Legislature offered both online and in-person options for legislators, lobbyists, association advocates, the public, and legislative staff. Anyone and everyone who wanted to participate was given the opportunity to do so.
I’m out on my usual limb to state far-and-wide that the hybrid model was incredibly successful! It was a particularly great option for the public as well as those who would’ve had to travel the vast distances that separate us in our enormous state.
I certainly hope the Legislative powers-that-be continue to offer their remote capabilities to the public during the interim as well as next session. Expanding participation when creating or repealing laws is a coup in my book. (I also love and support technology in all its forms—its’ the millennial in me.)
Because of the pandemic and new remote capabilities, the halls of the Capitol were particularly eerie for the first 45 LDs (Legislative Days). They were quiet, still, and more dim than usual. If you listened closely, you could hear the whispers of sessions passed…probably just lobbyists in their usual dark corners, but still, scary stuff.
The second half of the session was entirely different than the first. As infections lessened and restrictions were loosened, people came out of the virtual bill stacks. It made for the perfect blend of virtual and in-person participation. Bellissimo.
During the final 35 days, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was passed by Congress and signed by the President. ARPA was designed to provide $1.9 trillion in mandatory funding, program changes and tax policies for the purpose of mitigating the continuing effects of the pandemic.
As a result, three BILLION dollars were headed to Montana, and the Legislature was geared up and ready to give their blessing and allocate the funding via “The Beast” bill …I’ve never seen people under the Dome appear to like each other so much. It was quite nice!
The Elephant in the Room
I would be remiss not to mention that 2021 was the first time in 16 years that a Republican Governor sat on the iron throne (Game of Thrones reference—if you haven’t seen it, watch it over the Interim. You’re welcome.).
The R’s also held the majority in both the House and the Senate. Yep. The 67th Legislative Session was a Session built for passing bills. And pass bills they did.
Is it all coming back to you now? If so, breathe. It’ll be okay…for 1.5 years. (We have 18 months before the 68th Legislature convenes.)
How Did it All Shake Out?
The Legislature made a concerted effort to ensure that the pandemic appeared to play no role in in the 67th Legislative Session, at least in terms of completing the necessary business. They even planned to adjourn much earlier than usual—although some would say this has more to do with the possibility of a future federal infrastructure funding package.
How does that make any sense? If Congress passes another funding bill, the Legislature will have 10 remaining budgeted days to manage how those dollars would be spent.
But that’s all hearsay. And as I’ve said before, life is more chaos than conspiracy (boring, I know, but nonetheless true).
2021 Bill Stats
There were 3,367 bill draft requests, which is 43 more than 2019. Of those requests, 1,313 bills were introduced (4 more than 2019), of which 724 passed (90 more than 2019) and 589 died (87 less than 2019).
(Does anyone else see the significance of the 1313 bills introduced? No? Just me? K.)
Fifteen bills were vetoed—eight of which are undergoing the veto-override polling process. Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislative body, which is 100 votes of the 150 available.
Lawmakers have 30 days to return their ballots from the date the SOS sends them out. They were sent on May 25th.
The Legislature has already overridden a veto this year, which was the first time it’s happened since 2003: SB 227, Provide for repeal of administrative rules by joint resolution.
So, among other things, 2021 has shown that it’s 100% possible to breathe life back into a vetoed bill.
The looming question: Is it possible to overturn the Governor’s action when Legislators are safe in their homes—as opposed to under the Dome—where whipping the vote is a little more difficult? Hmmmm…
For more on vetoed bills, be sure to peruse our Legislative Update. While you’re in there, you can also check out all of what did and did not pass (only of the bills we were actively involved or monitoring closely–not all 1,313 bills. That’s crazy talk…You can see EVERYTHING here.).
MACo will be providing a more in-depth review of pertinent legislation impacting counties during the upcoming District Meetings.
A New Beginning. The Interim.
“The Interim” is exactly as it implies: The lovely peaceful period between legislative sessions (that’s a legit definition–look it up).
During the Interim, the process of building legislation begins again through Interim Committees. Members are appointed through Leadership and the “Committee on Committees.” View the committee appointments in our Legislative Update.
Wait, Making New Legislation Happens Now?
Yes. Well, actually it started months ago. During each legislative session, legislators identify issues they want to theoretically mine during the Interim, and they bring forward study bills/resolutions for review/adoption. (Or a bill died but the issue didn’t, so the consolation prize is a potential 18-month post-session discussion).
This Interim, the committees have at least 28 studies to enjoy—29 if you count the ongoing study assigned to the Children, Families, Health & Human Services Interim Committee: HB 39, Provide for continued interim review of child protective services matters.
There are also two vetoed study bills, which are currently moving through the veto-override polling process, so we may see HB 158 (Create study commission to review covid-19 statute & rule suspensions) and HB 688 (Interim study of wine making regulations) added to a couple committee dockets.
Our Legislative Update lists all studies that were polled and ranked as well as their committee assignments.
K. Committees Have Their Studies, Now What?
During their upcoming organizational meetings, the committees will determine how much time/resources they would like to allocate to each study. They have also been known to take up random efforts, given significant public and/or stakeholder interest in a particular issue.
Upon setting their agendas, the committees will convene bi-monthly (some more, some less) and invite experts (often agencies as well as lobbyists and association advocates) to present information pertinent to their Interim itinerary. There is also of course a public comment period during each meeting.
Why is This Important?
Legislators use the knowledge garnered from their committees and studies to in turn create legislation for the next legislative session, which completes the circle.
However, when a study bill turns into an Interim study, and it is then followed by a committee’s legislation, which DOES NOT pass during the following legislative session, we’re doomed to see it again, effectively trapping everyone in a legislative loop. So, being involved is necessary. Remember: Complete circles good. Loops bad.
MACo will of course be actively engaged in and/or monitoring closely all interim work. You can follow along by peeking at the Policy section of our website. (We’ll also keep you posted.)
As you can see, the only thing that stays the same is that everything changes…yet stays the same. The Interim has all the same players and many of the same issues. We just move at a more deliberate and—dare I say—”relaxed” pace.
Real-life Real-world Land
The Interim is a great time to decompress. It’s a time to sleep soundly without night sweats and panic texting; time to pack up the multiple laptops set up around the house; time to eat a damn salad and stop going to every greasy spoon in town; time to put the Tums and Pepcid aside and stuff the power suit and power tie into the deep dark abyss of the closet, take a deep breath, and re-enter the land of the “Real-life Real-world” regular people.
What is “Real-life Real-world Land” (RRL)?
It’s a magical place where when you hear the word “bill” you’re not suddenly hit with a wave of terror, searching your mind for any possible legislation still sitting in the Tax and/or Local Government Committee that needs amended on short notice, because a transmittal deadline is looming, and you don’t have the votes to get it out of committee yet, so you need track down, text, call, and/or zoomie Representatives or Senators XYZ…
Nope. Doesn’t happen in RRL. You’re chill. In RRL you just get online and pay your bill. Boom. Done.
The People are Different
The RRL folks live in a land where their real-life real-world friends have real-life real-world chats about the kids and the weather and the husbands and the wives and the doggos (pronounced “dog-ohs”).
And they take the kids and husbands and wives and friends and doggos to places like soccer practice, the movies, and/or the local brewery.
And they drink coffee at coffee shops; they grocery shop, make dinner, sleep, hydrate, and take walks in the park with sneaky beers, wines, or whiskeys (plural) in double-walled vacuum-sealed fancy cups.
And they just stroll along peacefully chatting away while the doggo does its business.
No nervous sweating. No high blood pressure. No heart palpitations or heartburn.
Real-life Real-people Land . . . Sounds dreamy… Sounds too good to be true. But it isn’t. And it’s here. We made it. And don’t those walks sound lovely?
It’s gonna take some time to stop thinking like the Legislative Mad Hatter that you’ve become, so be gentle with yourself and your fellow Legislative Land dwellers who are also trying to re-acclimate to the RRL.
Take as much time as you need. No one is judging you. No one is pushing you. And if they are, I formally give you permission to talk to them like you talk to people in the Capitol, when there’s only a few days remaining, and your bills keep getting sent to Free Conference Committees. That’ll put things into perspective for them right quick and in a hurry. (Sometimes it’s good to tap into those well-honed skills. Keeps you sharp.)
I also implore you to consider a nice relaxing afternoon trip to your friendly local lobotomist. I can provide recommendations if you don’t yet have one saved as an emergency contact.
Remember that to serve Montana as honorably as she deserves, the legislative process requires a myriad of people from different backgrounds, places, thoughts, and feelings who are willing and able to dig in, commit, and have all the uncomfortable conversations continuously—always wanting and pushing for better. And you’re part of that. You ARE those people.
And as you know, participating in the legislative process is not easy. It’s hard work. But it was built that way. And for good reason.
Remember that the Legislature exists to enact change as the times change. And lobbyists, association advocates, the public, and legislative staff are there to help mold that change. Sometimes a bill benefits a group of individuals and sometimes it works against them while benefiting others.
Also, remember that change is inevitable. It’s necessary. And no matter how big a situation or bill may feel in the moment, it’s not as massive as we make it in our heads—especially while living in Legislative Land.
And remember that nothing is forever. Life and the Legislature aren’t built that way. And in two years, things will change again.
So do your best, breathe in the Interim, and come back ready and willing in 2023. Montana needs you and we all—legislators, lobbyists, association advocates, the public, and legislative staff—need each other to do it right and do Montana and her Liberty, sitting high upon her Dome, proud.
See you in the Interim!
(Now where’s my fancy double-walled vacuum sealed fancy cup…)
Special Thank You’s
We extend our sincere gratitude to all county officials as well as legislative staff, Representatives, and Senators for your assistance and diligent work during the 67th Legislative Session.
Thank you MACo Staff for enduring gracefully and keeping the wheels firmly and fantastically on the bus!
I’m a six-session Dome Dweller who can barely take care of myself during a legislative session. So—for the first time publicly—I’d like to take a moment to give a shout-out to my husband for feeding me every night, keeping me in clean clothes, and reminding me to brush my teeth, shower…and wash my hair. I couldn’t have successfully survived without you!
And a New Reminder
If you find yourself on uneven footing during the Interim at any time, no worries. We remain steadfast in helping keep you apprised of what’s happening on the hill.
For quick access to pertinent information regarding the Interim, visit the policy section of our website.
See you either virtually via the internet highway or in the halls!
PS: ZERO legislative days remaining
Questions? We Got you!
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Eric Bryson, MACo Executive Director: 406-461-2084, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jason Rittal, MACo Deputy Director: 406- 698-3255, email@example.com
Shantil Siaperas, MACo Communications Director: 406-925-1134, firstname.lastname@example.org