2015 Legislative Summary
This was my first session in the Senate. I served on Senate Judiciary, Energy and Telecommunications, and Local Government Committees.
I sponsored several bills, including SB 84. As a Billings resident I witnessed firsthand the damages caused by the 2014 hail storm. After hearing horror stories from constituents who had their insurance policies cancelled after filing claims for hail damage, I sponsored a bill to limit the look-back period to prevent insurance companies from considering claims more than 5 years old. The bill flew through the Senate but was killed in the House. My bill on ensuring access to digital assets suffered a similar fate.
I supported four net-metering bills to enable individuals and small businesses to invest in renewable energy sources for their homes and business. These bills had huge public support and I, too, am a proponent of energy diversification. Unfortunately, all four bills were defeated along largely party-line votes after heavy lobbying by a major utility. You can read more about the intense lobbying effort to defeat net metering here.
I also supported the CSKT Water Compact, which eventually passed both chambers. The Compact balanced the water rights of on and off-reservation water users, protected existing users, and will prevent costly litigation in the future. It is a fair and equitable agreement between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the federal government, and the State of Montana.
Another major priority – campaign finance reform – also passed. This bill ensured that dark money groups will be held accountable for campaign related expenditures. Speaking of money in politics, there continues to be unprecedented expenditures by outside groups opposing important initiatives. You can read a good account of the activities of several of these groups who opposed Medicaid expansion and the CSKT water compact here.
It was extremely disappointing to see the infrastructure funding bill fail again this session – by one vote on the last day of the session. SB 416 would have provided $150 Million in funding (including bonding authority) for much-needed infrastructure investments across the State. The failure of the House to pass this bill was a difficult spectacle to watch.
This session had its fair share of quirky stories, from the dress code debacle to the yoga pants controversy. And it also had a number of initiatives that I strongly opposed, notably efforts to transfer public lands. I believe access to public lands is a critical right for all Montanans, and I will continue to promote and protect that right.
Overall, good work was done for Montana citizens this session. The Legislature’s primary responsibility is to pass a balanced budget, and this was accomplished, leaving more than $300 Million in reserve. For a more thorough overview of the 2015 budget, see the analysis by the MT Budget and Policy Center.