Montana Legislative Update
Well now that the dust has settled from the 63rd Legislative session the committee assignments for the Interim have been finalized. Once again I have been selected to serve on the Education and Local Government Committee. The only study that has been assigned to the committee in addition to our statutorily required work is House Joint Resolution 2. The resolution directs the committee to investigate state and local government electronic records management.
The state makes a huge investment in records management and the committee is charged with investigating to find ways which it can be done more efficiently and effectively. The records have to be saved in such a fashion that they aren’t just stored, but are stored in a manner that the information is easily accessible for research and reference.
The first meeting is an organizational meeting to elect the committee chair and create a rough work plan for the interim. The chair position historically rotates from Democrat to Republican and from House to Senate. This term it will be chaired by Sen. Tom Facey (D) Missoula. The interim committee’s are made up of an equal number from each party regardless of who controlled the legislature during the previous session. Not all legislators are selected for service on these committee’s so the balance can be made.
After the formalities were accomplished the committee heard testimony from state representatives of the K-12 and Montana University system including Denise Juneau Superintendant from the Office of Public Instruction. The goals and objectives were outlined by each. There was bipartisan concern that Montana’s K-12 education system has become too “top heavy” with mandates flowing down from the Office of Public Instruction. Extensive discussions surrounded Common Core Curriculum including the unilateral decision of the Office of Public Instruction to mandate the implementation without legislative review. This has passed a substantial cost on to many districts and mandated a curriculum that many communities do not support and the legislature has yet to be provided with an acceptable explanation from Ms. Juneau.
The committee requested we receive updates at each meeting of any Administrative Rules that have been, or, are proposed to be changed from departments under our purview. This additional oversight should assure an accurate implementation of the legislature’s intent on any given laws that were passed.
As I usually do, I spent some additional time on the west side of the state to maximize the time it took to get there. First I met with the director of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Jeff Hagner to discuss the issues relating to the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project. After years of study the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a new set of headgates for the project. The new headgates included barrel screens in front of the inlet pipes in an attempt to keep young pallid sturgeon, which are an endangered species, from entering the canal. As part of this project the community was told that there would be a new “rock ramp” diversion constructed in the river to maintain a steady supply of irrigation water to the project. Reluctantly, the community and the irrigators who depend on this water to irrigate roughly 55,000 acres of land, went along with the plan. While I would be glad to list all of the problems that the new facility has created, I am limited by the space allowed in this publication. Suffice it to say performance has been less than acceptable and nowhere near what was promised. Additionally, the Corps of Engineers has now decided the “rock ramp” is too expensive to build. The alternative they propose will be both ineffective and very expensive to maintain. This has left the irrigators in a very bad position not of their own doing.
I also met with the Director of the Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation, John Tubbs. They deal with water resources around the state, and fortunately for us, Dir. Tubbs just finished up a stint in Washington with the U.S. Department of Interior. Lastly, I met with the governor’s advisor Tim Baker. All three of these gentleman understand the magnitude of this project and the importance of a dependable supply of irrigation water. Countless families, businesses and industries depend on this water to grow crops not to mention the millions of dollars in tax revenue that are generated. I have enlisted their service to apply pressure on the Army Corps of Engineers so they don’t leave our farmers and our community literally “high and dry”.
As always I appreciate your input and can be reached at [email protected] or 406-687-3549.