Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Tim Leeds 

Myriad issues discussed at legislative video converence

 


Topics included workers comp, mail-in ballots, local governments,

wind energy rights

Myriad issues discussed at legislative video converence

Tim Leeds

A variety of issues were touched on during a video conference in Havre Wednesday with local lawmakers in Helena, including a push to reform workers compensation laws, affects proposed legislation could have on local governments and a push to allow mail-in ballots in all elections.

Hill County Clerk and Recorder Darla Dahl told Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, and Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, that a bill is coming out of committee that would allow mail-in ballots in every election, rather than only in city elections.

"I'm hoping we can get some support there," Dahl said.

Warburton said the local legislators will be watching for that bill to be debated in the full houses.

"I know you guys support that strongly, and I have tended to be in support of it," she said.

Havre resident Rick Dow said that he hopes legislation on the topic includes cleaning up voter registration.

"When you don't clean up your voter rolls, you tend to have more voters than you have people, and it can lead to some nefarious actions," he said.

Local business owner Brad Lotton praised Hutton for work he has done on legislation to clean up state workers compensation and eliminate a deficit in the program.

"Keep working on that," he said.

Republicans say their proposal will cut expenses in the program by 44 percent, but opponents say it does that by cutting benefits in order to give doctors and insurance companies more payment.

A compromise bill drafted by a panel appointed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer then reworked by an interim legislative committee, also is moving forward in competition with the Republican bill. Doctors and insurance companies have said that bill cuts their rates to benefit business owners and workers who helped write the bill.

Warburton said the Republican bill would improve Montana's position in the nation, moving it from worst regarding its workers compensation program to being competitive with most states.

Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette also praised Hutton, for work he did in committee to prevent passing responsibilities on to counties.

"I really appreciate that," she said.

"The one thing that we all heard was that we just cannot send more mandates to the county without having the money to back it up," Hutton said. "We're just tired of being treated like the red-headed stepchild and so we're going to do our best to make sure the counties don't take any more hits."

Bessette referred to a few other bills in appropriations that could impact counties, including one that would eliminate a state share of funding county attorneys, who also prosecute state cases.

She said the local governments can't afford any more cuts in local funding, with Havre City Council member Andrew Brekke agreeing.

Havre Public Schools Superintendent Andy Carlson responded to a question from Hutton on a bill that would change Schweitzer's proposal to take oil and gas revenues from school districts where the revenue is generated to create a statewide fund.

"I see promise in it, I guess is the best answer," Carlson said.

Hutton said the sponsor, Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, is open to suggestions about how to improve his legislation and encouraged Carlson and his staff members to contact Jones with ideas.

Herb Vasseur president of the Montana of Land and Mineral Owners Association, told Warburton and Hutton that a bill defining wind energy rights is not opposed by the association, as long as those rights stay with the surface rights.

"We don't want to sever the air from the ground," he said.

A variety of issues were touched on during a video conference in Havre Wednesday with local lawmakers in Helena, including a push to reform workers compensation laws, affects proposed legislation could have on local governments and a push to allow mail-in ballots in all elections.

Hill County Clerk and Recorder Darla Dahl told Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, and Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, that a bill is coming out of committee that would allow mail-in ballots in every election, rather than only in city elections.

"I'm hoping we can get some support there," Dahl said.

Warburton said the local legislators will be watching for that bill to be debated in the full houses.

"I know you guys support that strongly, and I have tended to be in support of it," she said.

Havre resident Rick Dow said that he hopes legislation on the topic includes cleaning up voter registration.

"When you don't clean up your voter rolls, you tend to have more voters than you have people, and it can lead to some nefarious actions," he said.

Local business owner Brad Lotton praised Hutton for work he has done on legislation to clean up state workers compensation and eliminate a deficit in the program.

"Keep working on that," he said.

Republicans say their proposal will cut expenses in the program by 44 percent, but opponents say it does that by cutting benefits in order to give doctors and insurance companies more payment.

A compromise bill drafted by a panel appointed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer then reworked by an interim legislative committee, also is moving forward in competition with the Republican bill. Doctors and insurance companies have said that bill cuts their rates to benefit business owners and workers who helped write the bill.

Warburton said the Republican bill would improve Montana's position in the nation, moving it from worst regarding its workers compensation program to being competitive with most states.

Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette also praised Hutton, for work he did in committee to prevent passing responsibilities on to counties.

"I really appreciate that," she said.

"The one thing that we all heard was that we just cannot send more mandates to the county without having the money to back it up," Hutton said. "We're just tired of being treated like the red-headed stepchild and so we're going to do our best to make sure the counties don't take any more hits."

Bessette referred to a few other bills in appropriations that could impact counties, including one that would eliminate a state share of funding county attorneys, who also prosecute state cases.

She said the local governments can't afford any more cuts in local funding, with Havre City Council member Andrew Brekke agreeing.

Havre Public Schools Superintendent Andy Carlson responded to a question from Hutton on a bill that would change Schweitzer's proposal to take oil and gas revenues from school districts where the revenue is generated to create a statewide fund.

"I see promise in it, I guess is the best answer," Carlson said.

Hutton said the sponsor, Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, is open to suggestions about how to improve his legislation and encouraged Carlson and his staff members to contact Jones with ideas.

Herb Vasseur president of the Montana of Land and Mineral Owners Association, told Warburton and Hutton that a bill defining wind energy rights is not opposed by the association, as long as those rights stay with the surface rights.

"We don't want to sever the air from the ground," he said.

 

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