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Volume 26, Issue 6
Published February 7, 2021

It’s Not Personal. It’s the Dome.

Thoughts Provided by Shantil Siaperas, MACo Communications Director & Unofficial (Yet Still Official) 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 Issue 6.)

Access Latest Legislative Update Here

Helena – Well hello Week 6, have you seen my shoes? No? How about my jeep keys? No? My vacuum-sealed, double-walled, burn-my-lips, keep-my-coffee-hot-forever, travel mug? No? Hmmmm . . .

If you’ve been asking yourself these questions more often lately, you’re not alone. Anyone involved—or even standing near—a legislative session will tell you, the dome of the Capitol building during these 90 legislative days has an eerie, ethereal effect on the mind. It’s not a secret. It’s the thing that is known by all yet whispered by none.

With that in mind, this week I want to tell you a story about a guy named Justice and a gal named Hope.

The Legislator & The Lobbyist: A Tale of Life Under the Dome

Written by Someone Who Should be Doing Something Else But Decided Everyone Needed A Short Story

Justice is a well-known, respected, and generally scrupulous legislator. Hope is an optimistic, determined, and positively pleasant lobbyist.

It’s LD 1 (Legislative Day 1) of the 67th legislative session. The sun is bright, the sky is blue, the air is brisk, and the birds are chirping. Both of our gung-ho heroes have a desire to do something significant and enact change that is generally good for all.

Both whistling while they walk toward the majestic granite and sandstone building that is Montana’s Capitol, Justice and Hope collide. They help one another gather together their scattered personal effects, laughing off their individual clumsiness.

Conducting the normal socially sensible small talk, Justice and Hope stroll up the long path to Montana’s house of laws, both eager to begin this new adventure and help create principles beneficial to the people of her land. A statue depicting Liberty sits atop the copper dome and gazes down upon them, seeming to bless our two protagonists with good judgement, understanding, and rationality.

The hours pass quickly, and the sun sets on LD 1. Both Justice and Hope feel like they’ve been drinking from a firehose of information all day. Their minds are swimming with anxious, yet still promising thoughts, which soon lead to satisfying fatigue—nothing a beer and a bourbon can’t fix.

A couple of hours later, after some strategizing and winddown time (virtually or in person) with their respective fellow legislators and lobbyists, our two champions get back to work, jumping on a zoomie, making a few more phone calls, responding to a flood of emails and texts, and reviewing the legislative schedule for the next day. When their heads hit their pillows, both Justice and Hope are content. And they excited about getting back to work, debating the issues, and making essential compromises . . .

. . . The sun rises and then she sets. The moon climbs and then he falls. The days come early, and the nights run late. Coffee, water, whiskey (or wine), sleep, repeat.

As is the way of things, the days turn into weeks, and our fearless and idealistic duo keep trudging toward transmittal.  The issues are becoming more intense, the hearings are getting longer, the stairs seem steeper, the corners darker, and moods are shifting. The strategizing sessions are deepening. The air is stagnant with problems seeking solutions. Meetings are increasing in number and size. One beer and one whiskey turn into two maybe three and occasionally four. A few phone calls, emails, and texts have cascaded into a flood for which there is no catching up.

Both Justice and Hope have seemed to develop a form of Tourette syndrome, their tick being uncontrollable cursing and legislative jargon. Words like “support,” “oppose,” “amend,” “kill,” “vote count,” and “consequences” continually fall out of their mouths. The days continue, their sleep debt deepens, and social sensibilities slowly peel away from the irritated little onions they are mysteriously becoming—a shadow of their former idealistic selves.

Our courageous pair is not alone in this eerie metamorphosis. For approximately four months, the dome has been shifting energy, testing belief systems, and molding together a very large extended dysfunctional family, which is both disturbing as well as oddly comforting. Justice and Hope seem to poke at and infuriate each other daily but there are still moments when they are each appreciative the other exists.

The weeks are cyclical. On Monday, Justice wonders why Hope is trying to slay his most important, bold, and beneficial legislation?  He could be making a tangible difference for all Montanans, especially those who need it most. Hope is confused as to why Justice has not absorbed any of the legitimate facts and principled arguments she’s provided as to why his legislation is a dumpster fire (her words, not mine). She is completely puzzled by the news that he will not be applying the magical amendments that could make his legislation workable as opposed to technically flawed and impractical. Hope is annoyed. And Justice is angry.

Enter Tuesday. Like a ray of sunshine, Justice and Hope exit the hearing room smiling and shaking hands, thanking each other for their most important work on this most important bill and then moving on to discuss their other most important legislation during this most important time in history.

Wednesday brings more war, while Thursday is glorious with angels singing from the rotunda. Friday brings oddly placid waters, and Saturday is filled mostly with digital work. Then Monday booms in again and the week repeats itself—maybe not in the same order, but echoing, nonetheless.

LD 45. Transmittal. The gavel falls one final time in both the House and Senate, granting a period of amnesty known as transmittal break: a short reprieve for all those who have been dwelling under the dome for the previous two months. The bills that have not crossed to the other chamber are slain, while those that managed to cross the threshold live to battle another day. But not today. Not for five(ish) days.

Our tried and true, battered, and bruised duo—Justice and Hope—limp away from the great brooding granite building casting its shadow over them. The time is just after noon o’clock (yes, noon o’clock), and Liberty nobly stands on her grand dome gazing down upon the two wounded souls as they gradually trek to their respective vehicles.

Liberty has been closely watching Justice and Hope every day. She has seen their efforts and respects the difficult work they have been doing. She understands more than anyone the trials and tribulations through which they must walk for her and her Montanans.

Liberty feels the exhaustion rising and the optimistic dreams of change dwindling in the hearts of her champions. Exhaling with a Mona Lisa smile and ever-so-slight movement—completely unnoticeable to the human eye—the sun’s rays suddenly burst, cascading past her, and pouring down upon our tired and sore, warriors.

Over the next few days, Justice and Hope feel a release. Of what, you ask? It’s unexplainable and mythical, but very real. They sleep. They eat. They rest. Their livers heal. Rationality seeps back into their minds, aspirations rise, and transgressions begin to be forgiven (but never forgotten).

LD 46. Our again gung-ho heroes feel refreshed and return to the Capitol to embark on the last half of their quest to Sine Die. Justice and Hope happily chat each other up on their path to the gleaming granite building.

Still standing tall on her dome, Liberty observes proudly as Justice, Hope, and her other honorable warriors whistle their way back into her home’s halls and chambers to follow her methods, heed her rules, and help her folk. She won’t make it easy though. What in life worth having ever is?

– The End –

One last thing . . .

If you find yourself on uneven footing, 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, information about participating virtually, and an easy-to-print bill hearings schedule for the upcoming week. 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: 65 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