The rules that govern how a session is run are set at the start of each new session. Until the new rules are voted on and adopted the Legislature operates on the rules from the previous session. The rules are usually not changed that much but this set of proposed rules set new standards of changes. I will highlight some of the more egregious rules brought to the rules committee this year.
First, please understand, the proposed rules are just that. They are not official until voted on by the entire House, both parties. One rule we need to change this time is to allow for remote attendance and voting. The 2019 rules had no reason to include these in the adopted rules but COVID-19 has changed that. The rule change to allow that is good and will have full support from both parties, including the divided Republican Party.
Now to discuss the new proposals. In 2019 we were able to change the rules so that the Speaker did not have dictatorial powers where committee leadership and assignments were concerned. This change allowed a vote on the floor to override the Speaker if the appointment was not agreed upon by the majority of the House. A proposal by the rules committee would have taken us back to the dictatorial power. My feeling is this gives too much power to one member and I am strongly opposed to the change.
Another problem proposal is to give the chair of a committee the power to just place a bill before their committee in the drawer and never let it be heard. Currently if a bill is sent to a committee they have to give it a hearing. Again, too much power in one members hand and I oppose it.
Since some members of the hard right Republicans were not happy their candidate for Speaker of the House was not elected during our caucus meeting in November so they propose another vote during the first day of the session. This has been on the books for years but never done they way they are doing it. The only problem with their plan is, they thought the Democrat members would not be present on the floor to vote as is required by the 2019 rules. They would then be able to ram through their plans and take full control of the House. The rule changes I have talked about here are but a few examples of what could come from the hard rights being in control. Wylie Gault is the elected Speaker and will do a fine job. He must be retained in the position.
There is an effort to paint all the Republicans as being of one voice and that voice is quite loud. Rest assured, the rule changes being proposed are the work of less than 20% of the Republican caucus and those of us who side with Conservative Solutions Caucus are working hard to block what we feel are not n the best interest of Montana.