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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 PolyMontana.com.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.