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Local legislators get mixed results at session

 


ments have to contribute to the $200 million Rocky Boy/North Central Montana water system. Local government's share is now 10 percent. Under Witt's bill, it would have been 5 percent. He said he plans to bring the bill back.

Witt's highest profile bill, which was defeated, would have authorized a music and entertainment district that would have allowed construction of a multimillion-dollar entertainment center in Butte. Democratic legislators from Butte asked him to carry the bill, thinking it would be better to have it sponsored by a Republican, they said.

"My bill would have brought a lot of money into the state," he said.

He said he expects it to be reintroduced next session, and that its proponents in Butte and prospective investors are looking at ways to make the proposal more acceptable.

Freshman legislator Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Rocky Boy, sponsored six bills and two resolutions, most related to Native American issues. Two of his bills passed and both of his resolutions were adopted.

Windy Boy said he worked very closely with tribal governments and organizations in writing his bills.

The actions of the Montana Legislature on Native American issues have been watched closely by tribes across the nation and in Canada, he said.

One of Windy Boy's bills would have set up a fund to permanently pay for water treatment at the Zortman-Landusky mine. The bill would have allocated federal mineral lease and royalty income to the state's hard rock mining debt service fund and authorized selling bonds to create a trust for water treatment at the mine.

Windy Boy asked the House to kill the bill after it was amended. The change would have required the sale of $2.5 million in bonds, but only if the federal government appropriated $10 million for the project.

"The way I proposed it, it was a long-term plan. It was going to build up on its own," he said. "I've not given up. I have a backup plan. If Plan A doesn't work, go to Plan B."

He had more success on a related issue. Windy Boy's joint resolution calling for a study of the downstream impacts of the mine did was adopted.

"That's what really sad about this," he said. "Tests show the pH level of the water coming off of the drainage is equivalent to battery acid."

Windy Boy saw his bill formalizing relations between state and tribal governments pass, as did a resolution asking the Bush administration to recognize that each tribe has its own religious beliefs and to support the American Indian Welfare Reform Act sponsored by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Another successful measure requires that a monument to Montana's Native American veterans be erected.

Freshman Rep. Bob Bergren, D-Havre, saw the six bills he sponsored pass.

Bergren said that while none of his bills may seem major, they will help the people of Montana.

"I think I got some tools that will be used," he said.

One reduces the number of employees businesses can pool to qualify for group health insurance from 1,000 to 51. Another guarantees that fees charged to agriculture producers cannot be reallocated to programs outside of agriculture.

Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, saw two of his four bills pass. A bill he successfully sponsored for Havre city government will allow Havre and other towns its size to keep their first-class city designation when their population drops below 10,000 but is still above 9,000.

An unsuccessful bill would have eliminated a board that oversees loans for cleanup costs of leaking petroleum tanks and assigned its duties to a similar agency.

Freshman Sen. Ken Hansen, D-Harlem, saw two of his three bills pass, but he said they weren't very controversial. He sponsored the bills mostly to learn the process, and will be ready to propose more serious legislation next session, he said.

"The bills that I took were slam-dunkers. They were very easy," he said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.

Local legislators met with mixed success in getting the bills and resolutions they sponsored this legislative session adopted.

Senate Minority Leader Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, saw five of his 10 bills passed and both of his resolutions adopted.

His first version of a bill to revise insurance and securities laws to better protect the elderly and disabled died in committee, but a revised, weaker version he introduced later passed.

"But it didn't really do anything for insurance," he added.

Another of his bills never made it out of committee, after raising considerable attention. The bill would have revised the regulation of the Montana State Fund, which is the state's largest workers' compensation carrier and insures more than 25,000 Montana businesses.

Tester proposed the bill in the aftermath of an investigation by the Martz administration into the compensation of Carl Swanson, the fund's president, who resigned after the investigation. Swanson earned more than $280,000 in salary and bonuses last year and was approved for a special $133,000 payment upon retirement, which was rescinded at his request after the investigation.

The changes in the bill included limiting the salaries of the fund's director and management staff to 125 percent of the base salary of comparable positions in state government and changing the membership requirements of the board of directors. The bill didn't go anywhere, Tester said.

"Quite frankly, I think I was the only proponent to the bill," he said. "It was a very, very interesting hearing."

One of the resolutions that was adopted dealt with creating a study about simplifying workers' compensation laws. The other recommended that genetically engineered grain only be grown if the crop is accepted by Montana's major foreign markets.

Rep. John Witt, R-Carter, saw four of his seven bills passed. One of them increases the maximum state hail insurance coverage for this year from $24 an acre to $30 an acre for dryland farming and from $48 an acre to $52 an acre for irrigated farmland.

A bill that would have reduced the cost to local government of building regional water systems was defeated. The bill would have affected what local govern

 

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