Lawmakers talk about the start of session
Chamber and Havre Schools set weekly video conference
January 11, 2017
Little more than a week into the 2017 legislative session, area lawmakers touched on issues and fielded questions from local residents during Legislative Conversations, a weekly discussion between north-central Montana legislators and their constituents.
Though the event at the Robins Administration Building is billed as a video conference, technical difficulties forced participants to gather around the smart phone of Montana State University-Northern Alumni Foundation President Jim Bennett to talk with Sens. Mike Lang, R-Malta, Russ Tempel, R-Chester, and Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre.
Havre Public Schools Superintendent Andy Carlson said the video system will be running for future conferences.
Lang, a member of the Senate Finance and Claims Committee, said his committee and others are in the early stages of crafting the budget.
"We have reduced revenues, so that is creating a great challenge to figure everything out," Lang said, adding that his committee is going over the numbers.
"It is going to be a long process of going through all that and just trying to make us more fiscally responsible to the situation," he said.
Bachmeier said that, much like his counterparts in the Senate, things are still early for him. A member of the State Administration Committee, Bachmeier said he is in the process of working on a bill that would make it easier for members of the Montana National Guard to transfer into other branches of the U.S. military.
Bachmeier, also a member of the House Education Committee, said that committee began looking Monday at three different bills to fund special education.
"They are all basically the same thing but with a little different strategy," Bachmeier said.
He said one version, House Bill 31, would provide inflationary increases to special education spending and would primarily favor urban school districts. Another version, House Bill 33, would provide a $2 million increase in spending each year and would be most favorable to rural districts.
Bachmeier said House Bill 32, which would provide both inflationary and a $2 million increase would be the best deal as it would benefit both urban and rural communities.
Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., asked lawmakers about what the state of the conversation was in the Legislature regarding infrastructure.
Bachmeier said a bill by Rep. Jim Keane, D-Butte, is being looked at that would provide infrastructure spending to each county in Montana. He said as far as funding for infrastructure on the Hi-Line, sewer and water projects were of particular interest.
Lang said while he is not totally on board with a gas tax, he could support some increase if it included provisions, specifically for highways.
He said he was much less inclined to support an expansion of the resort tax.
Tuss said he supports increased infrastructure spending, but not creating new programs and bureaucracy. Funding for infrastructure should go through existing programs that have been shown to work well, he said.
"Simply plugging and paying the existing dollars into existing programs. I mean from a common sense perspective, I think that does make some sense," Tuss said.
Lang said most of those to whom he has talked would agree with that approach.
"We will not create new agencies that are dysfunctional to run these programs," Lang said. "Like you said, we just have to get the money in the right place."
The Havre Area Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with Havre Public Schools has invited area residents to attend weekly video conferences where the public can engage in discussion with their local lawmakers throughout the 2017 legislative session.
Legislative Conversations will take place Tuesday at noon in the first-floor Video Conference Room of the Robins Administration Building until the Legislature adjourns April 29.
Sens. Frank Smith, D-Poplar; Mike Lang, R-Malta, and Russ Tempel, R-Chester, will take part in the discussions as their schedules allow, as will Reps. Jim O'Hara, R-Fort Benton, Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder and Casey Knudson, R-Malta.
Lawmakers will talk about legislation being considered and current issues.