You may have read or heard that the Legislature took an unexpected couple of days off. What happened was that a lobbyist had a few legislators over for a couple of meetings and then he tested positive for COVID-19.
When that happens a contact tracing is attempted and in this case up to 15 Representatives were at his gatherings. The number depends on who you talk to about the mix. As a result of the tracing several Legislators were put on quarantine for up to 10 days if they don’t get a positive test. The bump came when 3 of those found to have been at the get togethers refused to stay away from the Capitol and to attend via Zoom like several have done in the past.
Some tough negotiations were begun, and one held out until late Thursday before agreeing to the Zoom meetings. By then the leadership of both Houses had set in motion the rules about Friday and Monday, hence the two days of not meeting you may have heard about.
The possibility did exist that we would have to be out for a week or resort to everyone using Zoom. The problem there is that Zoom has limitations under our contract and there wasn’t enough space for 150 Legislators and additional staff to be on as needed. The three holdouts were basically holding the 147 other Legislators hostage so you can bet the pressure on them was intense. I wasn’t in on the negotiating so I can’t say for sure.
In spite of the anxiety caused by the exposure, we did get some work done this week. The four bills I mentioned in my last article are still in play but seem to be coming together. HB 2 was slated for conference committee on Wednesday but will now be put off until HB 632 and the marijuana bill are out of conference committee because they have some financial ties that will have to be worked out.
The House had a big day scheduled for Friday-up to 40 bills- but that is now scheduled for Tuesday when we gavel in again. Appropriations meets at 8 and the floor session begins at 10. We hope to be out of floor session by 3 or 4 in the afternoon, depending on how much people feel a need to talk on the bills.
How long we are here depends on the progress on the conference committees. Very few bills are left to be heard in regular committees and my estimate is that we will be done in 8 to 10 days. Everyone hopes we are through before May 1 but I have reserved a motel room for a couple of days in May just to get ahead of the possible rush since most Legislators have to be out of their rented houses by May 1. We also lose a lot of our staff if we go into May.
All told, it has been a good session with many good bills getting enacted. I personally have had 6 bills signed and have 2 more that probably will become law. I’m working on funding for the dike but it will not be a bill. I’m pushing hard to get Miles City money to begin the project. We will know more later this summer.