Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Tim Leeds 

Bachmeier introducing bill to allow firing of appointed local officials


February 18, 2019

Joshua Kassmier

Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, said Friday from Helena during a legislative teleconference in Havre that he is sponsoring a bill that would authorize county commissioners to remove from office people they had appointed to fill an unfinished elected term.

Bachmeier, Rep. Joshua Kassmier, R-Fort Benton, and Sen. Russ Tempel, R-Chester, spoke to people in a conference room at Northern Montana Hospital via a video link to Helena.

Bachmeier said the Montana Association of Counties helped him with the language for the bill and he expects MACo to support it when the bill is introduced this week.

He added that Rep. Bill Mercer, R-Billings, former U.S. attorney for the District of Montana, appointed by President George W. Bush is also signing onto the bill.

Hill County had problems over the past two years after the Hill County Commission appointed a county attorney about whom people immediately started complaining.

Jessica Cole Hodgkinson was appointed in November 2016 to fill the term of County Attorney Gina Doll, who resigned to take a position in Billings.

By February 2017, Cole Hodgkinson was facing complaints including being called in for a contempt of court hearing by Justice of the Peace Audrey Barger to explain why Cole Hodgkinson had not appeared for a trial.

Once appointed, someone filling the unfinished part of an elected term can only be removed by a recall election. The commission appointing an official cannot remove them under state law.

Cole Hodgkinson resigned in July 2018.

Before resigning, she received summonses from both state District Court and Hill County Justice Court to explain why she failed to file paperwork in District ourt and failed to Censure an attorney without conflicts would appear in three cases in justice court.

District Judge Dan Boucher canceled the hearings in his court after Cole Hodginson filed the paperwork, but Barger found Cole Hodgkinson guilty of three counts of criminal contempt in her court.

This year, Cole Hodgkinson was arrested in Abiliene, Texas, on charges in her shooting of her estranged husband Feb. 3.

Bachmeier said he is holding back another bill he proposed, reducing licensing and registration requirements for people who make and sell small amounts of pet treats, for a hearing later in the session.

Bachmeier said the bill, inspired by Havre business owner Keeley Wilson, is a revenue bill and can be sent from the House to the Senate later than non-revenue bills. He has been asked to hold the bill until later to give more time to deal with non-revenue bills.

"The Legislature has requested more bills than we have ever requested in the history of the Legislature, so (the legislative staff is really) struggling to draft resolutions and hold hearings," Bachmeier said. "So, they've asked me to hold off on Keeley's bill another week."

He said he has until April to hold a hearing on that bill.

"I think it will get pretty good support from the Agriculture Committee," he said.

Kassmier said he is sponsoring a bill that would revise the speed limit for trucks in the state.

His bill would remove having different daytime and nighttime speed limits for trucks and would set the speed limit at 65 mph on any public highway, the same as it is for federal-aid interstate highways.

He said he also is sponsoring a bill that would allow taxpayers to itemize medical expenses as a deduction on their state income tax if the expenses exceed 5 percent of their Montana adjusted gross income, instead of the 10 percent now allowed in federal tax code.

Medical expenses are such a huge part of people's budgets now, Kassmier said, any way the state can help would be a good idea.

Russ Temple

Tempel said a bill is coming out of the Senate to allow qualified personnel at hospitals to sign work orders. For example, he said, the hospital in Chester now has a doctor coming to it once a week and work orders have to wait for the doctor's signature. The bill would allow qualified personnel to sign the orders instead of having to wait for the doctor, he said.

"That makes sense," he said. "And, sometimes, we get things through that make sense."

Bachmeier also said the Montana Nurses Association has approached him about carrying a bill about licensing reciprocity which he doesn't know a lot about yet, but sometimes he likes to sponsor bills just to start a conversation on the issue.

He said he spoke to some nurses who serve in the Legislature and they weren't sure about the bill but wanted to hear the arguments for and against it.

He said the House also passed a bill to change the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day in Montana, 65-32.


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