For me, the 2011 session was about trying to create jobs, protecting priorities (including adequate funding for education and health and human services), and turning back assaults on our constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment. Given the makeup of the House and the small minority of Democrats (32 out of 100), it was difficult to successfully pursue the priorities I had run on, notably job creation and promoting energy efficiency.
For example, I was a co-sponsor of HB 439 authorizing general bonds for state government to provide capital for designated state building investments. The Bill had wide-spread support, and was one of the few real job creation bills offered this session (click here for more) but the amended bill was eventually defeated. I also sponsored a bill to revise net metering provisions to facilitate increased use of renewables (HB 581), and was a co-sponsor another (SB 332) to increase Montana's renewable energy portfolio standards, but both failed. I successfully sponsored a bill (HB508) that ensures partial salary payment to full time rural firefighters injured in the line of duty. This is a benefit that urban firefighters already receive. Now firefighters who work in districts like Lockwood will receive the same treatment as their Billings counterparts.
I am a strong advocate for energy independence and the role that energy efficiency and renewable energy should play in our future ( click here for more). I worked to defeat the many bills that sought to roll back important clean energy initiatives, such as:
* HB 244 to repeal existing renewable energy standards, and SB 105, SB109, and SB225 to roll back incentives for investing in renewables
* SB 253, which sought to repeal virtually all tax credits for energy conservation, efficiency investments, and alternative fuels (Bill was vetoed by the Governor)
* HB 326 which tried to overturn the existing citizen's initiative which makes nuclear plants in MT subject to voter approval
* HB 292 a constitutional referendum amending Montanan's right to a clean and healthful environment
* HB 549, which declared that global warming is beneficial to the business climate of Montana.
I chronicled the outright assault on energy conservation and efficiency that was a hallmark of the 2011 session in an April 2011 Guest Opinion in the Billings Gazette (click to read).
I was very concerned by the systematic effort to weaken existing voter access laws. There was a bi-partisan bill (HB 130) introduced by a Republican Representative to set up an all-mail voting process in MT. The bill had been thoroughly vetted and enjoyed wide-spread support (click here for more). GOP support for the measure literally evaporated overnight, and the bill was defeated. There were subsequently additional bills introduced to eliminate same day voter registration (HB 180), and making it more difficult to prove MT residency (HB 152). I documented these issues in a February 8, 2011 guest opinion in the Billings Gazette (click to read).
It turns out that many of the voting access bills, and others, were based on model bills crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Instead of representing real concerns of Montana citizens, these initiatives were the product of a national organization funded by large corporations. For more information about ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), its funders, and the extensive "model legislation' the organization creates, visit this site to find out more (Click here.)
I was happy to support bills that supported business competitiveness, including HB 334, which revised workers compensation. While I also support reducing the business equipment tax, I was unable to vote for SB 372 as it was tied to SB 253, which paid for the equipment tax reduction by eliminating all existing tax credits tied to energy conservation. Many of these credits have benefited homeowners and small businesses, encouraged investment in energy saving initiatives, and supported local jobs. In the end, the Governor vetoed SB 253 and the Business Equipment Tax reduction passed, an outcome I support.