Republicans tout accomplishments at midpoint
HELENA — Republican leaders said Thursday they are on track at the Legislature's midpoint to cut the governor's budget and advance business-friendly proposals — while Democrats countered that too much time has been spent on "nonsense."
Republicans said at the close of the Legislature's first half that they have so far found ways to cut more than $150 million from the governor's spending proposal, a big part of their original promise to make sure the state spends only as much money as it collects in taxes over the next two years.
They are also touting as successes business-backed ideas to reduce workers' compensation benefits as a way to lower costs, and plans to tilt environmental laws to the favor of industry.
Democrats counter that Republicans have worked up bad solutions that hurt workers and suppress citizen involvement. And the minority party argues far too much time has been spent trying to nullify federal laws and undermine voters.
Republicans majority leaders on Thursday downplayed social issues, such as efforts by members of their caucus to restrict abortion and undo local equal rights protections for gays. Instead, the leaders pointed to successes advancing their core platform trying to ease regulations for business and reduce spending.
"We are focused on creating opportunity in the private sector," said Senate President Jim Peterson, a Republican rancher from Buffalo. "We can't continue to spend more than we take in."
The Republicans trumpet proposals to limit medical malpractice reform and change eminent domain laws in favor of the stalled Montana Alberta Tie Line that would carry electricity to Canada. They also tout the many proposals aimed at stymieing implementation of federal health care and dozens of other bills based in conservative principles.
"We are working on changing the future," House Majority Leader Tom McGillvray of Billings told colleagues in closing remarks before the four-day break.
Democrats have a different take.
They argue Republicans are trying to undermine the will of voters by advancing a plan to repeal the medical marijuana law approved in a 2004 initiative instead of a competing proposal to strictly regulate the industry with new laws and fees. They say the move to enshrine the "Code of the West" from a coffee table book written by a Californian into state law is "frivolous" and a waste of time.
And the minority party said the increasing debates over nullification of federal laws, with the potential for spurning hundreds of millions in federal funding, is an example of the bad ideas coming from the Republican majority.
"I hope we put a little less attention on frivolity and things that make people feel good and pay a little more attention on the things that matter to Montana families," said Senate Minority Leader Carol Williams.
Democrats said their biggest achievement has been blocking the Republican proposals they perceived to be among the most egregious, such as a proposed mandate that doctors perform ultrasounds prior to performing an abortion.
Sen. Kim Gillan, D-Billings, said she thinks Republicans running the Legislature are going to get an earful for advancing all the proposals from social conservatives, and other bills looking for new ways to buck federal laws.
"What we have heard this session is not a lot of common sense, but a lot of nonsense," she said.