The Montana Legislature opens its session this week with lawmakers on all sides promising that this will be a productive session with people working across the aisle to find solutions to problems. We'll see. The Montana constitution mandates that lawmakers meet for 90 days every two years. As the session began Monday, the oft-heard joke was repeated: Montanans would be better off if the Legislature meet for two days every 90 years.
It wouldn't be better for the news media that covers the session.
Lawmakers this year will be making decisions on issues that affect the lives of every Montanan. Issues range from taxes to schools to state pensions to abortion rights.
The Havre Daily News covers the Legislature and its activities very heavily.
The main on-the-scene coverage comes from The Associated Press Helena bureau. Reporters Matt Volz, Matt Gouras and Matthew Brown — yes, apparently you have to have the name Matt to work there — will cover the day-to-day activities of the Senate and House and their committees. They will do stories on what the legislation will mean to people in the state.
To supplement that coverage, Amy R. Sisk, from University of Montana's Community News Service, will provide features and frequent updates on goings-on in Helena.
Siski is a journalism student at the university. Every two years, journalism students cover legislative activities for smaller newspapers in the state.
Old-timers like me often assert that the young kids today aren't as good as they used to be. Don't believe it.
The students who have worked in the UM program have been first-class pros.
We're sure that will continue this year.
Locally, our reporters, most often veteran political reporter Tm Leeds, will be doing stories on what the legislation will mean to the Hi-Line. How will proposals to expand charter schools affect local students? How will construction proposals affect Montana State University-Northern?
And Leeds will be checking in with local lawmakers to see what their opinions are on the key issues in Helena.
The Hi-Line delegation to the state capital is one of the most diverse and interesting in the state.
There are two Native Americans and three whites. Three Democrats, two Republicans. Three women, two men. All three House members from our part of the Hi-Line are women.
State Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, has been involved in state government since he was elected to the Senate in 1974. Rep. Clarena Brockie, D-Harlem, is a newcomer this year.
On the hot-button issues, they vary. Jergeson told Leeds before the election that he favors civil unions for gays. Reps. Wendy Warburton, R-Chinook, and Kris Hansen, R-Havre, voted against eliminating the provision in Montana law — declared unconstitutional — that homsexual acts are illegal.
Hansen and Windy Boy are authoring a proposal to give charter schools more autonomy from public school districts. Others are less enthusiastic.
It should give us a lot to cover.
Read what they are up to in the Havre Daily News, at http://www.havredailynews.com or on Twitter, @HavreDaily.
(John Kelleher is managing editor of the Havre Daily News and http://www.havredailynews.com.)