During a video conference in Helena and Havre Wednesday, local lawmakers urged constituents to weigh in on issues during the 2011 Legislature.
Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, said a meeting the Legislature held Saturday with Montana business owners provided valuable input, and she wants her constituents to keep that trend going.
“Don’t forget to let us know those things,” she said. “Please keep us informed on how you want things addressed, from tax credits to natural resources to education to whatever you think, please let us know. That testimony that was provided was outstanding insight.”
The session was the first of the Wednesday weekly legislative updates from Helena sponsored by Havre Public Schools and the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce.
The video conference was attended by Hansen, Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, and representatives of Havre Public Schools, Northern Montana Hospital and District IV Human Resources Development Council, as well some local residents.
Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, and Rep. Tony Belcourt, D-Box Elder, did not attend this week’s video conference.
One specific piece of legislation was raised by Karen Sloan of Havre — a bill sponsored by Rep. Ken Peterson, R-Billings, which would allow utilities to use eminent domain to take private land for power lines. The House Committee on Federal Relations, Energy and Telecommunications held a hearing on the bill, House Bill 198, Wednesday.
“I think it’s very ironic that almost all of the people who are in the Legislature now ran on less government control, and here we have a bill being introduced to take away the rights of people who own things,” she said.
Sloan added that she is especially concerned because the company that pushed the legislation into the Legislature, the Canadian company building the Montana Alberta Tie Line, is not even a Montana company.
“And I would just ask you to be really concerned and to really look into it and to see if that’s what indeed you all want,” Sloan said. “It’s certainly not what I want, is to have the government take over our rights. …
“I just think it really is something that concerns me a great deal and a lot of other people that I’ve discussed it with,” she added.
Warburton said there is a lot of concern on both sides about the issue, both in the need for creating jobs and industry and regarding the concern for private property rights.
“I think it’s going to be a really interesting debate,” she said.
All three legislators at the video conference urged people to let them know about issues and concerns.
Warburton said the forum Saturday raised many points about what the business owners want the Legislature to do to help them.
“(They talked about) what we need to do to help small business, regulations, laws and rules, situations causing difficulties for small businesses in Montana, making changes to help them be more competitive,” she said.
She added that the House and Senate Republican leadership is working to make sure those concerns are addressed. Bills already have been proposed to address some of the issues, she said.
Hutton said one issue raised during the session Saturday was a desire for increased transparency.
During the forum, businesses were split into groups of similar areas, with about 20-30 business owners addressing legislators in each group.
Hutton said that in his group, public health and human services, one issue discussed was a pilot project proposed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer to test privatizing Medicaid in a five-county area.
The problem is, Hutton said, no one knows what the pilot project would do.
“They can’t even weigh in on whether they think it’s a good idea or a bad idea,” he said.
He used that as an illustration of the importance of hearing from the constituents, that the legislators want to get the message back to the local voting districts.
“To echo what Kris said, that’s what we’re hoping to hear from your end, is you’ll let us know what you need from us,” said Hutton.