- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 22, 2020

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana lawmakers rejected Tuesday contentious rule proposals for the Legislature that would have consolidated power in Republican hands. The result leaves the House to operate under rules that were in place the previous session when the legislative session begins in January.

Some conservative Republicans - who said the proposed rule changes did not go far enough - banded together with Democrats in voting against the changes in a meeting of the House Rules Committee.

Republicans will control both the House and Senate as the Legislature convenes Jan. 4. The party consolidated its hold over Montana politics with a sweep of statewide races in the November election that expanded its majority in the Legislature and wrested the governor’s seat from Democrats for the first time in 16 years.

One of the proposed changes now off the table would have opened the door for committee chairs - all Republicans - to kill legislation without a vote. Democrats opposed the change, saying it would make the legislative process less transparent and limit public comment on bills that do not get a hearing. Current House rules require every bill be scheduled for a committee hearing.

Other failed proposals sought to increase the power of the House Speaker, a move that could have prevented moderate Republicans from joining with Democrats to circumvent the majority, which has allowed the passage of bipartisan legislation in previous sessions including Medicaid expansion.

Rep. Brad Tschida, a Republican from Missoula, voted against the proposed rule changes after fellow Republicans backed down from the changes that would have consolidated the power of committee chairs and the Speaker of the House.

Tschida said under the rules from the 2019 legislative session, “splinter groups” can ignore the wishes of “the majority of the majority party” to come up with a coalition.

“Some might refer to that as bipartisanship. I guess I see it in a different light,” he said.

House members may adopt new rule changes in January once the full legislature is in session.

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