Notes from the Field / What The Helena 2019

What the Helena: Week 1

January 11, 2019

WELCOME to the first edition of the 2019 What the Helena newsletter. I’ll be writing every week to let y’all know what’s going on in the capitol and how it affects young Montanans.

Our goal? That the legislative session doesn’t need to be a 90-day anxiety stomach ache. (I mean, it still might be, which is why my side gig is selling antacids on the capitol doorstep. That’s show business, baby.) Basically, we’ll be helping you understand the issues that matter and the easiest ways to get your voice heard, along with calling out those who are working to cut your healthcare or restrict your rights.

If you’d like to get WTH in your inbox each Sunday, you’ll have to subscribe at the link here. *extremely Youtuber voice* LIKE AND SUBSCRIBE!!!!

Were you like me and thought this first week was going to be all about fun icebreakers and legislators taking cute class pics? Well, put on your top hat & grab your briefcase, because there’s already a helluva lot going on.

In this issue of What the Helena:

  • The Rules Debate: Boring but also EXTREMELY IMPORTANT (A Recurring Theme)
  • Medicaid Expansion: The Elephant in the Session that Everyone is Talking About
  • Renewable Energy: Speaking of Sunsets
  • Villian of the Week: Senate President Scott Sales

The Rules Debate: Boring but Also EXTREMELY IMPORTANT (A Recurring Theme)

The State House spent the first week debating the rules that govern how the House functions. Democrats and some moderate Republicans wanted to loosen the rules and spread power around a little bit, but the v conservative majority was less than enthusiastic.

The Speaker of the House assigns bills to committee — meaning if they don’t like a bill, they can send it to a committee where fellow reps are pretty much guaranteed to shelf it (ominously referred to as “kill committees”) or not send it to a committee at all, so it languishes without the House ever getting a chance to even consider it.

The biggest debate was about how many votes it takes to “blast” a bill out of a committee so it can be debated on the House floor. Currently, it requires a supermajority (60 votes) and some legislators wanted to change it to a simple majority (51 votes) so that when bills are stuck in committee, it takes fewer legislators to bring it out to the floor for discussion.

What we got, in the end, was a compromise that looks… pretty much like how the rules were before. A new set of rules passed 88-12 that lowered the number of required votes from 60 to 58. Serendipitously, 58 is the exact amount of Republicans that serve in the House.

But there’s good news: A majority vote in the House will now be required to assign bills to committees, and committees will be required to hold a hearing on every bill. Yay for distribution of power!

The gritty details of the fight that led up to the change are laid out in this Montana Free Press article.


The Elephant in the Session that Everyone is Talking About — Medicaid Expansion

Medicaid expansion is set to “sunset” this year, which is a strangely passive-aggressive codeword for “if we don’t fund it again, it will die and tens of 1000s of people will lose their health insurance.”

#DYK: 61% of Medicaid users are under the age of 40?

Democratic Sen. Mary Caferro has already announced a Keep Montana Healthy Act, and Republican Rep. Ed Buttrey is planning to introduce a bill called the Medicaid Reform and Integrity Act. This is definitely a space to watch — keep a special eye out for any bills that add more stringent requirements to qualify for Medicaid. These proposals use needlessly narrow definitions and many people with disabilities and serious illnesses will fall through the cracks.

Medicaid Expansion is so important, you should contact your legislator ASAP and let them know they should support renewing Medicaid Expansion! It’s v easy — just dial 406-444-4800 & the friendly capitol staff will help you with the rest.


Speaking of Sunsets — Let’s Talk about Renewable Energy!

Northwestern Energy will be releasing it’s procurement plan soon regarding their long-term ideas for energy sources. We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that they’re gonna want to invest in gas-fired power plants and not renewable energy — unless Montanans can rally and let decision makers know that aiming towards renewable energy sources is v important (read: the National Climate Assessment for deets).

There’s just a handful of opportunities for Montanans to give public comment. On January 18, there’s a public hearing at the capitol that will include Northwestern Energy, the Public Service Commission, and both the House & Senate Energy Committees. Here’s a Facebook event with more info! You can also hit up FMT’s Conservation Outreach Fellow, Caitlin Piserchia, with questions!


Villain of the Week: Senate President Scott Sales

Senate President Scott Sales has gone full MAGA and thinks that the border wall is an important use of $8 million of our tax dollars. First of all, hilarious how someone’s a fiscal conservative until the opportunity arises to spend money villainizing immigrants. Second of all, Sales’ told the Helena Independent Record that because Governor Bullock’s budget includes $30 million for preschool, we can also afford… to help build Trump’s wall. #SMDH

Any suggestions on what Sales’ Villain of the Week prize should be?


Mark Your Calendars:

1/16: FMT’s Legislative Tele-Townhall

1/18: Northwestern Energy Hearing

1/21: Martin Luther King Jr Lobby Day

1/28: Young Legislative Voices Round Table


Whew. That’s it for this week. If you found this even mildly entertaining, click here to subscribe & get WTH in your inbox each week. If you hated it and never want to hear from me again, congratulations, that will happen automatically.


Margaret Grayson is Forward Montana’s Legislative Communications Fellow. A recent graduate of University of Montana, Margaret spent three years with the Montana Kaimin as an administration and finance reporter, a news editor and a managing editor. She has a cunning wit, as demonstrated in WTH each week, and enjoys cats & internet linguistics.