A timely (and hopefully entertaining) update (and unsolicited perspectives) provided by Shantil Siaperas–MACo Communications Director & Editor of MACo’s Legislative Update–to keep you apprised of what’s happening on the Hill during the 2023 Legislative Session.
An Update & Unsolicited Perspectives Provided by Shantil Siaperas, MACo Communications Director & Editor of MACo’s Legislative Update
MACo's Legislative Update
Volume 27, Issue 4
Published January 30, 2023
Published January 30, 2023
Volume 27, Issue 4
(If you’re not interested in the meandering thoughts of a rambling lobbyist and just want to checkout MACo’s Legislative Update, I sympathize. Click the button below for instant access to our fourth issue of the session.)
Continue Reading the Unsolicited Perspectives and Meandering Thoughts of a Rambling Lobbyist…
Strange Times at Capitol Hill
Well, hey there MACo Folks!
It’s Monday. It’s Legislative Day (LD) 21. We’ve got endless days of zero-degree weather ahead of us in Helena. There’s a full moon on the way. It’s Groundhog week. And I can’t scratch a quote from Lewis Carroll out of my brain: I’m not strange, weird, off, nor crazy. My Reality is just different from yours.
Yeah Louie, old chap, WAY different. And this week’s recipe of happenstance makes me think we’re in for another reality that’s just as unreal as last week…
Spill the Tea!
I don’t really have “tea” this afternoon, but I have a large, shiny—quite weighty—tinfoil hat that I’m willing to share (and I’m also sipping some tea…Earl Gray with a heavy splash of milk…consider me the Queen of Conspiracy Country—or better yet, “County”—today).
We’ve officially made it through FOUR weeks of the 68th Legislative Session…
Week one was fun.
Week two was still new.
Week three was ugly.
And week four …. was too weird to ignore.
Weird? What Does that Mean?
The Big Bang Gone Bust
The session began with a bang. Bill hearing after bill hearing AFTER BILL HEARING. Things were flying! Folks were—and still are—saying that there are “over four THOUSAND bills moving through the Legislature.”
To be clear, there are NOT over 4,000 bills moving through the Legislature. We’ve talked about this before, but it merits repeating (no one needs that kind of anxiety in their life). Just because there are over 4,000 bills requested does NOT mean there will be 4,000 bills introduced. The Capitol simply doesn’t have the staff, nor do they want to kill the ones they DO have by making them even attempt to draft over 4,000 bills.
Legend of the Legislative Staff & Drafter…
Committee staffers and bill drafters are a very special, very small group of people. These folks are much more than “hard-working” (even more than a “hard-working Montanan,” which as you know, is already a steep snow-covered hill to climb). These people are magical creatures who bless the Capitol building with their presence, wisdom, and work ethic. They’re no-nonsense, nose-to-the-grindstone, crushing-it day-in, day-out, and all night long unicorns with more patience than Mother Theresa on Xanax and the uncanny ability to keep a straight face in any—and all—situations including, but not limited to, when people ask them questions about seeing through ballot boxes with x-ray vision goggles from their kid’s spy kit. MA-GI-CAL.
To conclude this rant (that has gotten me completely off-topic), the Capitol is very lucky to have these folks, and they know it. They definitely don’t want to lose their wise, magical unicorns. You know how you DO lose wise, magical unicorns? Make them draft over 4,000 pieces of legislation. That’s how.
As per usual, we’ll see about 1,200 bills introduced. So, people can calm down with the “over 4,000 blibbidy bla bla bla…” Not. Gonna. Happen. You heard it here first…and now a second time (and surely you will hear it again in the near future). Moving on…
Back to our regularly scheduled update…
Fast forward to the present and the unreal reality. Bills are still being introduced, but they aren’t being scheduled for their hearings. Some committees aren’t even meeting.
Prior to transmittal, this isn’t necessarily abnormal for the Senate. They have half the numbers as the House, so they meet often enough to get their bills heard while waiting on the inevitable landslide from the other side. Makes sense.
But in no year EVER have both the Senate AND House TAXATION COMMITTEES taken a random TUESDAY off in week FOUR of a legislative session. Shut. The. Front. Door…(I know).
Conspiracy Theory Corner
Yes, the time has come. Join me in putting on those handy dandy shiny little head-topping tinfoils and let’s circle around and get to colluding and crafting some conclusions!
The Governor is pushing for his bills to move through the process quickly, and yes, they’re moving at light speed. With approximately 160 pieces of legislation, primarily in the realms of lifting red-tape and providing tax relief, the first couple of weeks revolved primarily around Executive Office priorities.
However, in week three, the House Tax Committee tabled one of the Governor’s primary tax bills, HB 222. The next day, he held a press conference regarding the committee’s action and essentially called them out it. Soon after, the bill was untabled (but it was amended, halving the 2-year property tax rebate from $1,000 to $500, ouch).
Normally after a bill comes out of a committee, it goes to the Floor for second reading. If it’s a “money bill” that passes muster with the Body (i.e., passes second reading), it’ll then get rereferred to the Appropriations Committee to vet the fiscal note.
However, HB 222—and several other tax priorities sitting in committee—took a beeline straight from Tax to Appropriations, via motions from the House Floor on the very same day the committee passed them. Then on Friday, these bills were all amended and passed out of Appropriations (save one that wasn’t part of the majority). They’re now headed to the House Floor for second reading.
Sooooo, why is any of this important?
Three Words: The Great Divide
The sticky situation in the House Tax Committee and quick rereferral from the Floor is important because it not only displays the frantic need to get primarily the priority legislation through the process, but it also shines a glowing light on the split Supermajority (the Conservative Solutions Caucus, the Freedom Caucus, and everyone else in between) not being on the same page with each other or the Executive.
Regarding any sort of “plan,” I think it’s the same one we always see: 1.) Get the priorities through; 2.) Get the budget through; 3.) Adjourn “early” thereby “saving taxpayer dollars” (along with saving some extra LDs for the never-ending interim conversation about the “special session” that never is…). If this is the plan, it seems to be moseying along while other things sit idly by. Today.
BUT (and this is a BIG BUT) if the Majority intends to keep priorities moving, then negotiations better start now, because that great divide is only going to widen as the Legislature gets closer to adopting a budget.
I’ve been told that everything in life is a math problem. Unfortunately, I don’t “math.” But this (below), I understand…
More Money + 150 Legislators + 1,000 Lobbyists & Countless Advocates + the Great Divide = More Problems (for adjourning)
Given the split in the Supermajority and the Tony Montana mounds of money we’re dealing with this year (because it’s piled high, not because of ANYTHING ELSE), Helena may be destined to become a habitat for Legislators well past LD 90…
But maybe I’m wrong. It’s still early and the theories have just begun…
One month down. Three to go.
PS: 69 legislative days remaining…
Below is a list or resources, some of which were mentioned in this update.
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 (i.e., the Legislative Session), 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 all the bills we’re currently watching as well as those in which we’re actively involved. Click the button below to check out the new issue.
Pro Tip: Our website’s hearing schedule is updated daily, with new hearings added as the week progresses, so be sure to check it out! It also has links to testify remotely and/or submit written public comment as well as watch legislative bill hearings.
For other pertinent information regarding the legislative session, visit the policy section of our website.
That’s all for now! See you either virtually via the internet highway or in the halls!
(the end…of the update, not the session, obvi)