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By Tim Leeds 

Organizations give opposite views on local lawmakers' voting records


Two organizations have released their ratings of state lawmakers in the last session, with the approval of the voting records for local legislators sharply split on party lines.

The Montana Chamber of Commerce and the state's largest labor union, MEA-MFT, both released ratings of votes by legislators in the last session. Each group rated lawmakers for the votes they made on bills considered good — or bad — by the groups.

The Chamber also rates the governor.

The Havre-area Rebublicans scored well on the Chamber rating, with Democrats generally receiving low marks.

The reverse was true in the MEA-MFT rating.

The labor union rated the lawmakers on 12 votes, including votes on budget issues and specific bills, and on one vote to try to blast a bill out of committee to be voted on the house floor. That bill failed, which MEA-MFT says was the first time the Legislature failed to approve a labor contract negotiated and endorsed by the governor. The vote on the bill, House Bill 13, which died on second reading in the House, also is one of the bills tracked.

Sponsorship of bills considered good or bad also count in MEA-MFT's rating, although that did not impact any local lawmakers' rating.

Rep. Tony Belcourt Belcourt, D-Box Elder, voted as MEA-MFT desired on 11 of the 12 bills used in the scoring. His down mark was for voting against House Bill 632, which proposed using coal tax revenues to reduce unfunded liabilities in public retirement systems. That bill passed in the House but failed in the Senate.

Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, had an identical score, also voting against HB 632.

Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, received the highest marks from MEA-MFT for local Republicans, 27 percent. The union reported she voted three out of 12 times as MEA-MFT wished, and had an excused absence on the vote to blast HB 13, out of committe. Warburton voted against that bill on its second reading, giving her one of her down marks from MEA-MFT.

Her votes listed as "right" by the union were on HB 632 in support of the bill — and on House Bills 439 and 315. HB 439 was on the state bonding bill, which included funding for a new automotive and diesel building at Montana State Unversity-Northern added by the local legislators. Warburton voted for that bill.

MEA-MFT opposed SB315, which redefined due process and good cause in termination procedures for tenured teachers. Warburton voted against the bill.

Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, received a 25 percent score from MEA-MFT, voting identically to Warburton except having an absent record on the vote on HB 13, which cost her two points.

Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, also received a 25 percent, with a nearly identical record to his Republican House colleagues from Havre. Two differences were his MEA-MFT supported vote on Senate Bill 113, which capped school district employee retirement reserves and used $13 million in one-time funding to reduce unfunded liabililities in public employee retirement systems. Hutton voted in favor of that bill, as did Belcourt and Windy Boy, while Hanson and Warburton voted against it.

Hutton voted in support of SB 315.

The Chamber tracking is slightly more complex, including votes on 19 bills the organization supported or opposed, as well as bill sponsorships and work and votes in committees. The Chamber also tracks the stance of residents in the legislator's district for Chamber issues and compares that with the lawmaker's rating.

Different bills were worth different points, and legislators sometimes were rated on different issues depending on which committees they sat or which bills they could vote on, with the final record also translated into a percentage.

In the Chamber report card, the top local legislator was Warburton with a 96 percent. Warburton was docked for her vote on one bill, House Bill 384, which would have lifted some restrictions on carrying concealed weapons in some areas now prohibited. She voted in favor of that bill, and also was docked two points for sponsoring a bill that would have allowed keeping firearms in vehicles parked on employers' property.

Warburton's rating of 96 percent compares to a district rating of 46 percent for pro-business issues.

Next was Hutton, who received a 95 percent and was docked for voting against one bill, House Bill 198, which allows electrical companies to use eminent domain to acquire land for power lines.

His rating compares to a rating for his Senate district of 45.

Hansen received a 90 percent, and was docked for her votes on three bills. She also voted no on HB 198, and voted yes on Warburton's HB 384 and no on House Bill 555. HB 555 would have prevented people from receiving payment from two different insurance companies on the same medical expense. That bill died in legislative proceedings, passing both houses but failing to meet a deadline.

Her district's rating is 33.

Belcourt received a 47 percent rating from the Chamber, receiving a positive rating on seven votes. Those included his postitive vote on House Bill 334, which reformed workers compensation, House Bill 43, which reformed medical marijuana procedures in the workplace; the HB 198 emminent domain bill; Senate Bill 233, which revised environmental impact laws; House Bill 359 dealing with settlement of workers compensation claims; the state construction bonding bill, HB 439; and HB 34, the concealed weapons bill.

His rating compares to a district rating of 27.

Windy Boy received a 21 percent rating for four votes as the Chamber desired, on HB 43, HB 439, HB 359 and SB233. His district's rating is 25.


MEA-MFT 2011 Legislative Report Card

Montana Chamber of Commerce 2011 Legislative Report Card


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