By Matt B. Walen
Day one at the special session went well despite holding hearings out of the Capitol at Carroll College, according to a Big Sandy legislator.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, said Tuesdays first day of hearings on a proposed agreement between Montana and the Crow tribe resolving years of state-tribal differences over water rights and coal taxes went well and the session could end Wednesday by noon.
I wasnt sure how I was going to vote, Tester said in a telephone interview from Helena. But after hearing the issues this seemed like a reasonable solution to that problem. The compact is an equitable solution for both the state and the Crow Tribe.
The Senate approved the proposal 45-5 and the dissenting voters where concerned about a couple of groups of people who felt left out of the compact hearings, Tester said.
The House also settled an issue on the payment plan for the $15 million settlement of the water compact. The vote was 80-18
The water compact agreement settles water rights on the southern Montana reservation and the tribes 1978 legal challenge against the states taxing of coal mined on the reservation.
Both issues will be moved to the other houses for consideration today, Tester said. If the both issues are approved by the two bodies, the water compact issue would be forwarded to U.S. Congress for consideration. The tribal members will also get the final vote to approve the compact.
I cant see any problems with it passing, but you never know, he said. But it will be several years down the road in getting this issue solved.
The compact has the support of tribal officials, the governor, Attorney General Joe Mazurek and the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission, which negotiated the deal.
If there are too many amendments added to the compact, the whole process may be returned to the Montana legislature for reconsideration.
Tester said there was some concern concerning protecting the fisheries on the Bighorn River. If the water flow from the area is too great, the fisheries may be in jeopardy, he said.
Tester said some landowners had concerns regarding the issue of previous water rights and whether or not they would lose the rights with this new compact. Under the agreement, the landowners would retain the water rights, he said.
The Senate also took the first step in righting the speed limit ticket issue, Tester said. The lawmakers Tuesday voted 45-5 to eliminate a $20 surcharge for fees from the new speeding ticket fines.
The dissenting voters had concerns about the court costs related to the new speed limit, Tester said. The $5 speeding ticket in the past didnt cover court costs and the extra $20 fee seemed excessive, he said.
The fine for misdemeanor speeding is $20 if a car travels up to 10 mph over the limit; $40 for speeds 11 to 20 mph too fast; $70 for speeds 21-30 mph over the limit; and $100 for greater speeds. The speed limits are 75 mph on interstate highways and 70 mph on most two-lane routes.