The pace at the State Legislature continues to be a bit slower than it has traditionally been.
As noted in past weeks, most of this relates to all of the electronic accommodations relating to the virus.
Zooming has some advantages obviously, less travel and being able to access material if you are able to stay in your office. So far in committee hearings, the negatives far outweigh the good. Often the audio is terrible, and it is more difficult to stay engaged with the speaker. After a presenter, a couple days ago, I made it a point to say that the mornings presentation was about 95% worthless as far as I was concerned. The next day, the department director at least, was there in person. I’m here to represent you. We need to be able to have access to these department people if we are to gain information and make the best decisions possible with your tax dollars.
Regardless of the pace, progress is being made. Senate Bill 65 to limit COVID-19 liability and House Bill 102 to further codify our 2nd Amendment rights, are on their way to the Governor’s desk. Using removal of the mask mandate as leverage, the Governor requested SB 65. Many of us in the legislative branch thought he should have just fulfilled his campaign pledge and removed the mandate on day one and that 65 was an unnecessary piece of legislation. HB102 removed some of the constraints on concealed carry of firearms that had been unconstitutionally enacted over the years.
Reading in The Circle Banner, I noticed an article regarding a lawsuit filed by the Northern Plains Resource Council challenging a permit issued by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for the Keystone Pipeline. The suit alleges a flawed process that, among other things, left the public out of the process. The Department, of course blames inadequate time. The truth is, this was just a parting gift from the Bullock administration to the stop the pipeline crowd, knowing it would create another legal delay of a year or more. Now, unfortunately, the Biden executive order, creates even further delays. Hopefully that order will be defeated in court, allowing this important project to be completed by a company that has already invested $8 billion in it.
The House also passed some important education legislation that sets K-12 funding for the next biennium. We also passed a bill requested by the Governor to incentivize school districts to increase the starting wages for teachers. That bill was designed to narrow the gap with neighboring states for beginning teacher wages. It’s important to take care of some of this business early in the session so school districts can plan their upcoming budgets.
House Bill 176 addressing election integrity, was sent on to the Senate. It was originally put forward to change the final day to register to vote, from election day to the Friday before. 176 was amended to Monday at noon, the day before the election. Hopefully it will be amended back to Friday in the Senate. This change will allow more order and timeliness on election day. Many were hesitant to alter a voter approved initiative from a few years ago but, it had become evident to the majority that some changes were in order.