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First legislative video conference of session held

Local legislators told audience members Monday at a video conference that not much has happened yet in the early stages of the 2013 Legislature.

"The session is just kind of getting rolling, " Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Chinook, said. "We haven't seen anything too controversial so far. I'm sure that will change shortly. "

Havre Public Schools and the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce held their first legislative video conferences of the session Tuesday, with the conference room in Robins School building close to filled with participants.

Warburton and Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, were the first legislators in the room in Helena — joined by a number of constituents from Blaine and Hill counties who were at the session in Helena — and had to leave early to go to the official portrait session for the House.

Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, came in as Hansen and Warburton left — he was late to the video conference to attend the Senate portait session.

Rep. Clarena Brockie, D-Hays, and Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, did not attend the video conference.

The school district and the Chamber are sponsoring the video conferences each Tuesday at noon through the session.

Warburton said she has seen some interesting bills in two of her committees. The Parks and Recreation Committee is considering a few bills that would expand wolf hunting in Montana, including one that would allow up to five tags per hunter, she said.

"So, we can hopefully open up more wolf hunting this season, " she said.

The Judiciary Committee also held a hearing Tuesday on the Pregnant Woman Protection Act, she said.

That bill, House Bill 104, adds unborn child to the state laws defining deliberate homicide and mitigated deliberate homicide. It defines unborn child as a human who is conceived but not yet born.

"It recognizes … that the unborn child is a person, too, " Warburton said.

Opponents of the bill say it is an attempt to advance an agenda of restricting women's right of choice regarding their pregnancy, and could lead to an infringement on women's constitutional right to privacy over their medical records, and that women could be prosecuted if a fetus is lost.

Havre insurance agent Andrew Brekke, also president of the Havre City Council, asked all three legislators to oppose a measure, requested by Hansen, to double the coverage allowed under state crop hail insurance.

Brekke said Montana is the last state in the country that has state crop hail insurance, and that it competes directly with private insurance.

The bill, requested by the Montana Grain Growers Association and sponsored by Rep. Dave Lenz, R-Billings, proposes doubling coverage limits, from $50-an-acre to $100-an-acre for dryland farming and from $76-an-acre to $152-an-acre for irrigated land.

Brekke said that, while private insurance companies tend to have a good working relationship with the state board that oversees the hail insurance — many farmers piggy-back the state coverage with private insurance — the state has several advantages.

One is being able to refund unused premiums — something for which private insurance agents would lose their licenses and companies would lose their charters — and another is farmers being able to add their premium payments to their property taxes, rather than paying up front, he said.

Brekke said his first choice would be for the state insurance to be eliminated, but he would settle for the bill trying to increase limits being shot down.

"I know grain growers want it because, quite frankly, they want more insurance, and I understand that, but I think the private market can provide that capacity if needed, " he said.

Hansen said she didn't know that much about the proposal when Grain Growers asked her to request the drafting of the bill — Brekke had just told her more about it than she had yet heard, she said.

"I had started to hear some of those concerns over the week, " she said, adding that a discussion is starting that the program should be eliminated because it does compete with private market.

When Brekke asked him about the bill, Jergeson said he would not support eliminating the program.

While some areas of the state — like where Jergeson used to farm — do not really need the supplemental coverage, other areas — like the hail belt on the Big Flat near Hogeland and Turner — cannot get low rates, he said. State help is needed for people in that situation, Jergeson said.

He added that he has not yet seen if there is any justification on raising the coverage limits.

Brekke said that companies have adjusted their rates and now farmers throughout the state can get competitive rates. Many Blaine County farmers now buy insurance through him as well as buying the state coverage, he said.


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