Top Ten Good Ideas Both Parties Can Support in the 2015 Legislature

The 2015 legislative session begins Monday, January 5th. Instead of looking backward at memorable events of the past year, let’s look forward with the Cowgirl Blog’s countdown of ten good ideas that members of both parties can support this year.

They are:

  1. Create an 80 MPH speed limit at various places on the interstate, where it’s straight and clear. Nothing wrong with this idea if it’s done right. Automobile technology has moved ahead leaps and bounds, and driving 80 or 85 is not what it use to be. And while it’s true that there might be a few more casualties, that same argument (that an increase in speed equals more fatalities) could just as easily be used to defend setting the speed limit at 55. In other words, Montanans are tend to be in favor of trading a small amount of safety for  a lot of freedom. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just the way of the West. One such proposal LC0768 is sponsored by Rep. Mike Miller (R-Helmville).
  2. Reform the Board of Pardons and Parole. Last week saw Gov. Steve Bullock give the boot to Mike McKee, who wanted to be reappointed as Chair of the BOPP even though his legacy is that he made sure that people were locked up and that the key was thrown away. Earlier this year Bullock publicly stated his desire to commute Barry Beach’s sentence so that he could be eligible for parole. McKee stacked the ­person panel hearing Beach’s case with hearings officers that were anti-Beach, thus assuring that Bullock would not get a chance to issue clemency. Conservatives and liberals can both agree that the Constitution grants the power of clemency to the governor and in such cases he should be able to exercise it without the interference of an unpaid bureaucrat. And after all, in the very unlikely scenario that something goes wrong and Beach misbehaves while out on the street, it would be entirely on Bullock, politically speaking. So the GOP has no reason not to work with the governor here.  Rep. Margie MacDonald (D-Billings),  Rep. Ellie Hill (D-Missoula) and others have already been looking at some common sense reforms.
  3. Infrastructure – including for eastern Montana oil-boom towns like those in the Bakken. There are road, bridge, sewer and building projects that Montana needs right now, and interest rates are super-low. Let’s bond for them. Obviously, the GOP will try to tease down the amount that we devote toward these projects but it would be reckless to try to kill all of them, and if Bullock can budget for them and still keep a healthy ending balance, then all or most of what Bullock is proposing can be agreed upon for funding.  Rep. Jeff Wellborn (R-Dillon) is sponsoring this fix.

  4. Health care for the working poor and veterans. Governor Bullock has come up with an alternative to medicaid expansion. Everyone can get behind it.  It will cover tens of thousands of struggling Montanans with basic health insurance without growing the Medicaid rolls or expanding Obamacare.  Veterans and working poor Montanans are trapped in a coverage gap right now, and have no medical insurance nor can they afford it. The federal government is offering billions of dollars of federal funds that will end up going to other states rather than Montana if we deny it. It’s our money, and we’d be stupid not to bring it home to Montana. Bullock’s solution would satisfy the GOP’s pals in the insurance industry by allowing the program to be privately administered by insurance companies for a small percentage, and be far less costly than the private option proposed by Republicans in other states. It would also satisfy the medical community because it increases provider rates for Montana doctors. Republicans in other states have supported such alternatives, and are expected to do so here. And, the Montana Chamber of Commerce, a rock-ribbed-Republican group,  has endorsed the Governor’s plan. A Chamber of Commerce poll of 800 Montanans found that Montanans support for covering the working poor leads by a 20% margin.
  5. Another health care measure would be to end surprise medical bills. Patients lying on the operating table are often not told that the doctor about to perform all or part of their surgery isn’t actually in their insurance plan’s provider network. The patient finds out about it when she receives a surprise bill, a few months later, for tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars that the insurance company doesn’t cover.  Rep. Kathleen Williams (D-Bozeman) is sponsoring a law to prohibit this outrageous health industry scam.  It would require that patients be notified up front if the care they are scheduled to receive is covered, so that they may exercise the option to go elsewhere.  And this measure reduces costs throughout the system because if the scammed patient ends up simply not paying the bill because they can’t afford it, the rest of us end up covering it.
  6. Support the Salish-Kootenai Water Compact.  Every federally recognized tribe in Montana has a negotiated water water rights agreement with the state and federal government except one –  the CSKT – and while extreme right-wing legislators, as well as birthers and outright racists have worked to block such an agreement for the tribe in the past, the compact has now been endorsed by Republican AG Tim Fox and even the TEA Party blog
  7. Online voter registration. Half of American states now allow voters to register on the internet, using a drivers license and/or Social Security number.  Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch wants to bring it to Montana, as do all of the county election clerks who are overworked during election season. Nobody can point to a single reason why printing out a form and mailing it in is any more secure than filling out an online form and submitting it electronically.  And unlike many Democratic and Republican election bills, which are often designed to mathematically one party or the other, online nline registration systems can be found in conservative, liberal and battleground states. So it’s a good measure. And conservative Republican Geraldline Custer (R-Forsyth) is sponsoring  the bill, HB 48.

  8. Confirm Jonathan Motl as Commissioner of political practices. The 2013 session saw a bipartisan effort to reform money in politics and provide greater transparency in political donations.  Since then, it has been left to Motl to actually try to enforce the law and by all accounts he has breathed life into an otherwise dormant agency.   He has prosecuted all comers, Ds and Rs. And he’s also been quick to dismiss petty and frivolous complaints that waste everyone’s time.  Moderate Republicans are likely to support him because Motl has prosecuted the criminal money enterprises run by the Tea Party, aimed at bouncing moderate Republicans from office.   The only real loser in a Motl confirmation would be Tea Party leader Art Wittich, whom Motl has taken to court for massive violations of campaign finance law.  A district judge in Helena, Judge Sherlock, issued a decision in which he mocked Wittich’s motion to dismiss the case.  If Motl wins, Wittich could be removed from office.
  9. A ban on e-cigarette sales to kids.  Montana Attorney General Tim Fox says he’s considering it.  Montana has seen bipartisan support for regulating tobacco use – regulating e-cig use by minors will find broad support as well.
  10. Support the microbrewers and microdistillers. A number of bills could address these businesses, and we should get behind whatever legislation helps them and oppose the bills that seek to curtail them. Democrats and Republicans both have an interest in doing everything and anything possible to combat the farce that is much of Montana liquor license law. In a city such as Missoula or Bozeman, a liquor license for a restaurant costs over a million bucks. Neither political party can be very enthusiastic about such laws. In Portland or Seattle, it costs a few thousand at most.



24 Comments on "Top Ten Good Ideas Both Parties Can Support in the 2015 Legislature"

  1. I say ‘if’ we have 80mph limit (and in Texas they have, but done by appropriate zones, and varies from 60 – 80 depending on road quality, traffic density, etc.) then we MUST have primary seat belt law, as too many are dying from lack of incentive to ‘buckle up’, a no brainer.

  2. More laws won’t entice drivers to buckle up. These primary seat belt laws are just revenue enhancement generators. Montana already has a pretty hugh compliance rate. The laws on the books currently are working.

    • I suggest law enforcement professionals disagree as they SEE the tragedy of how ‘buckling up’ is so disregarded with dozens killed needlessly by ejection, etc. It’s not so much for the older drivers who
      won’t change, but to instill better habits and compliance for our youth and those who will reflect. I know
      we can’t change some attitudes who will do anything in a ‘you bet’ culture, but it doesn’t hurt to instill better habits and attitudes, and those goes double for DUI criminals who put us all at risk.

  3. For what it’s worth – the only people I have to remind to buckle up in a car are over fifty years old. Anyone younger than 35 just doesn’t feel comfortable without a belt, in my experience. Most cars won’t let you move without a bell reminding you to buckle in the front seat, and at 80 mph, 75 mph, or 50 mph, an accurate visual of “seat belt on or off” is not possible.

    Primary seat belt violations would merely give another tool to law enforcement to pull people over. In fact, I’d bet even money that if you polled ‘our young people’ of 16-25 years of age, most would think that you could be pulled over for no seatbelt. They know it’s the law – if they don’t wear a belt they know they’re breaking the law. Primary vs. Secondary offense is a nuance that would be lost on anyone except for law enforcement (who work hard to keep us safe and I’m ever grateful).

    Personally, I happen to live in the camp that is opposed to giving law enforcement another reason to detail individuals, but that’s another debate for another time.

  4. Gah – that was meant in response to Publius II. apologies for any mucking of the thread.

  5. …and finally Santa, I’d dearly love to no longer be seen as a criminal simply for choosing to utilize the miraculous herb Cannabis. Thanks!

  6. As a veteran in the healthcare gap created by these incredibly arrogant legislators, I’m for calling arrogance by its name and fighting it, even if we lose the battle. We don’t gain anything by buckling to self-righteousness and then writing Fred Thomas a check with our tax money for a chaser. We were talking about healthcare reform back in 2009, NOT health insurance reform, and it’s RomneyCare, not ObamaCare. Proper english preferred.
    Also as an over-50 guy who always wears a seatbelt and doesn’t appreciate people 10 feet behind my bumper talking on their cellphones I’d point out that most Montanans don’t want to be intimidated into somebody else’s hurry. When you ratchet up the speed limit, you decrease reaction time while increasing braking distance and impact. There’s more than just more accidents. There’s more serious accidents–one car rollovers, head-ons and T-bones that should never have occurred. Freedom always comes with responsibility, but speed limits are seen by too many people as minimum speed limits, not maximum. Ratchet a limit up to 80, even in a straight ahead zone, and you’ll have too many folks on your back bumper trying to force you along at 90, even when the road starts curving at the limit is damped down to a mere 70. Don’t know about you, but speaking as someone with a half-century career of wreck-free driving, I can safely say that even I don’t have the skills to drive safely at 90 mph in any car, let alone some 15 year old on her way to a football game in her parents’ old Sentra.

      • Right on. And if Fort Sumter were located in Montana, these transplanted wingos who so yearn for freedom would be firing on it notwithstanding the last 150 years of mere history. Civil wars are best nipped in the bud, n’est pas?

        • If that were true Bill, then MALSTROM, Air Guard would be SHUTDOWN, EVERY $$$ of ag welfare to tea party farmers would be suspended, along with the millions upon millions for
          sceamin’ about their ‘Gummint’ welfare being cut off, like Medicare, military retirements, VA benefits and such…….do those anti-gummin’t people think the United States of Koch will come in and make up the difference?

    • I think your right Bill. but here’s a thought as well. There are appropriate places in Montana to bump up the speed limit. But I would kindly ask for some land bridges for the deer and elk……At least in our area. I believe that will help a lot with mitigating accidents if the animals can walk under or over some highway areas. … Like you said higher speeds longer break times……

      Just a thought that where ever the speed is bumped up the animals and people have a safe guard!!! I have seen these bridges and tall cyclone fences work in HIgher speed areas. I also think those speeds should be tempered by weather as well….

      This HIghway conversation is gonna take more than just raising the speed. It needs better modeling and more time to protect every one

      Lastly, even if you are a good driver, Faster speed still mean More Gas and diesel consumption.( I am sure the Koch brothers and big oil will want this to bump up prices again. “The lifetime in the air of CO2, the most significant man-made greenhouse gas, is probably the most difficult to determine, because there are several processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Between 65% and 80% of CO2 released into the air dissolves into the ocean over a period of 20–200 years. The rest is removed by slower processes that take up to several hundreds of thousands of years, including chemical weathering and rock formation. This means that once in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide can continue to affect climate for thousands of years.”

      Do we really want our kids in high speed areas to breath this stuff for countless centuries.

      Just saying!

      • Old Line Democrat | January 1, 2015 12:37 PM at 12:37 PM |

        Land bridges are extremely expensive and are of questionable utility. (See US 93 North)
        We could probably use grant of a few million federal dollars to find out how to teach them deer to read the signs and cross the roads at the signs.
        In reality there are very few roads in MT that are in good enough repair, have few horizontal and vertical curves and low enough daily traffic counts to meet the basic criteria for a higher speed.
        This is just another “sop to the masses” concept brought to us by the right wingos trying to make MT more pathetic than their heroes in Wyo.

  7. I have never understood why drivers of any speeding violation or any documented “distraction” can still get their medical bills paid if they cause an accident, provided of course, they have insurance of any kind, or even if they don’t. That includes any payoff for those who weren’t wearing a seat belt, which in this state, I think is law? For example, the person on the cell phone who causes an accident, injuring the other people, gets care, fine; however, what about that bystander, sorry, driving-by stander, who gets sent off in an ambulance because of the other driver’s irresponsibility? I don’t have medical insurance; can’t afford it; too rich for a subsidy. I did add medical to my car insurance, so at least I wouldn’t get stuck with an ambulance bill if I have to be transported. Guess I took care of that personal responsibility. There were comments above about buckling up & slowing down with which I agree. Seat belts save lives & speed kills; I agree. It takes seconds to buckle a belt; 70 mph on a 2-lane road will still make you late to work when I am driving the same two-lane at 55 because it’s winter, the roads are icy, and the deer are out. I will not speed. 80 might be OK on the east side; been there, done that; here? in Western Montana, there aren’t too many places that would work. Zones could work; and that’s why they are called speed limits. And I agree with you, James; I drove LA freeways for 40 years but was never so afraid as when I set out on a 2-lane here. I have to watch out for people even at my local PO who sort of just pull out without looking, signaling; or slow down at traffic lights. And tragic as it is, the young woman who died in Kalispell last week had her kids locked in, but she didn’t survive the crash. She didn’t buckle her readily available seat belt. Think I will go join my fire, dogs, and a book on this 10 below evening, and enjoy the fact that I live in Montana. It is the last best place, and maybe we should all try to get along.

    • Can’t seem to resist since we all spend so much time behind the wheel it’s a big part of our lives, which is an interesting commentary right there: but I agree with you on your main point, Kimberly. I’ve always said that a lot of Montanans seem to drive like they vote, recklessly and without forethought. But most of them are alright when they’re not flying down the road at 80mph in a blizzard or doing other hair-raising things like voting for Fred Thomas!

  8. Great ideas. However, I hate to say it, but the Republicans don’t want bi-partisan legislation that both parties support. Their goal at present is to differentiate themselves from the Democrats as much as possible. That goal trumps any actual policy objective. So, they can’t be associated with bi-partisan legislation. Over the past few years we have seen many times when a Republican will introduce a bill, many Republicans will co-sponsor it, then when even a handful of Democrats get on board, the Republicans, including the person who drafted the bill, drop their support of it entirely. We’ve even seen Republicans passionately arguing against policies that just a few years ago they themselves were the main advocates for just because a Democrat agreed with them and introduced a bill on it.

  9. Folks are already driving 80 on the interstate, so it does make some sense to increase the limit. We still have reasonable and prudent, so on some days it may not be reasonable to drive 80 mph, but that is our choice, based on conditions.

    • Yes, some drivers are doing 80. Others are going even faster. So what? That doesn’t make it safe, for them or for the law abiding drivers they might crash into or run off the road. Rather than rewarding scofflaws by raising the speed limit, we should raise the fines for speeding, have the highway patrol really crack down on these selfish leadfoots, and deal with recidivists by throwing them in the hoosegow and melting down their vehicles (pronounced vee-hick-lls) to leg irons and a walking stick.

    • I don’t care if the speed limit is 80 or 55, and I know there are reasons for things that I don’t understand, but in Montana the speed differential between passenger cars (75) and trucks (65) creates problems. On clear dry days it is no problem, but when the weather is bad and we are given opportunity (not need) to pass semis in potential blindness, I see danger of losing control. And feel it, because I do that.

      So too on two-lane roads where cars are encouraged to pass trucks who are required to travel at a slower speed.

      I am told the reason for the speed differential is the disproportionate wear that large trucks have on asphalt highways, by the way.

  10. 16 comments, and well over half of them deal with the 80 MPH speed limit increase proposed, one in a list of 10. Thank you, Bill LeCroix for commenting on the Health Care donut hole, which (my opinion of course) seems a much bigger failing of Montana policy relative to speed limits, atlatls, silencers and dress codes. There’s certainly something to be said for picking the battles you can win.

    Happy New Years, folks, though I doubt it will bring much more joy than what we saw in 2013, or 2014 for that matter. My resolution this year is to be not so ‘distracted’ from things that ‘really matter’ by football.

    • There’s niches and needs, Rob, and I’ve suspected your writing about football serves the same purpose as my love of baseball – a healing distraction. We all know you can write about more, and the choice not to do so was itself an interesting phenomenon.

  11. You crybabies….
    Having cut my gears on 55 plus reasonable and prudent, I’m still mad at that Corvette driving lawyer (probably a Democrat) that ruined it for everyone.
    Speed doesn’t kill, stupidity is the main cause. I like speed, it gets me around inattentive morons texting and yapping. Focuses the mind, too….no boredom or accidental naps.
    And the fact is, if you look at James’ chart, it makes my case. We rank near the bottom for “careless driving.”
    Drunken is stupid prima face. Drive sober and you’re good. Speed? Well, that’s because we don’t have rubber room speed limits like in the Evergreen Socialist Republic. You want bad drivers sober or drunk, try Pugetopia.
    Montana needs two laws — Don’t Be Stupid; and Lead, Follow or Move The Hell Over.

  12. #9 is a safe piece of legislation that AG Fox can get behind without any loss of favor or money from Altria.

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