Montana Viewpoint

April 29, 2001

Now that the legislative session is over, it’s appropriate that I give an accounting of myself to my employers…that’s you. Politicians make a lot of promises about what they will do if they get elected, and I’m no exception. Did I put my money where my mouth was? That’s for you to decide. Here’s my presentation.

I said I would work to bring jobs to rural Montana by developing a plan similar to Montana’s tourism promotion efforts. Working together with the Montana Department of Commerce’s Director Mark Simonich, Matt Cohn of the Montana Promotion Bureau, and the Montana Economic Developer’s Association, I had a bill written that would ask voters to approve a 4% tax on rental cars with the money raised dedicated to advertising Montana as a place to move small businesses to. That has never before been done.

It won’t be now, either, because the bill died on the Senate floor. However, I had the language in my bill amended into a bill by Senator Lorents Grosfield, R-Big Timber, which raised money to develop our tourism infrastructure and preserve historic buildings. Senator Grosfield was very accommodating and helpful, but that bill died in the House.

I said I would work to keep electrical power prices down, and supported a bill that would let Montana buy the power producing dams, hire private concerns to run them, and retail the power to Montana residents at cost. I wrote a bill that would tax the windfall profits of electrical generators and use that revenue to offset electrical rate increases. These and other bills I supported, failed. I did oppose the last-minute deal between Montana Power and PPL that will raise our power rates by “only” 50-100% (and giving PPL an 80% profit) because we could have done better. Much better. The Legislature´s part of the deal was to drop all legislation that PPL considered “punitive.”

I said I supported a statewide teachers’ salary plan, but gave up having a bill written to do this because Senator Sam Kitzenberg, R-Glasgow had one I could and did support. I did support increased school funding, and presented a plan by Plains’ Superintendent Ron Rude to make the local school budgeting process more predictable. We got some increased school funding, but the other two bills failed.

I said I supported local control, and was successful in helping defeat a bill that would mandate how local library boards managed their internet content filters, and another that dictated how those same library boards ran their privacy policies. I was unsuccessful in opposing “the Big Bill,” HB 124, which now gives the state the authority to collect and distribute local tax dollars, run the county welfare programs, and administrate and fund the District Courts. I was able to have all those parts amended out of the bill in the Senate, but they were reinstated by a Conference Committee, and the bill passed pretty much the way it came to the Senate.

I said I supported our Second Amendment rights, and voted to remove the requirement that social security numbers be collected by the state when we apply for hunting licenses.

My efforts to bring prescription drug prices lower met with problems around interstate commerce and the Constitutional provisions against states restricting it. I have since found ways that some states are getting around that problem, and will introduce a bill in the next session to deal with the issue.

I carried a bill that will allow timber counties to accept increased federal timber receipts money, and facilitated negotiations between parties that had strongly differing views on how the bill should be written. The bill went through the House and Senate with few dissenting votes, but there sure were stress and drama behind the scenes.

And, oh yes, after July 1, train horns will no longer have to be sounded at every ranch road or private crossing at all hours of day and night, thanks to the hard work of Dr. Ray Nelson of Eddy Flats. I carried the bill, but he did all the research.

I’m going to take a rest from writing weekly articles, but will try to get an article in every other week or so, just to keep you posted on things I think you’ll be interested in. I’ll be at the ranch in Trout Creek until the next Legislative session beginning January 2003. Give me a call at 827-3671 if you’ve got the notion. I’d enjoy hearing from you.



Jim Elliott
Phone: 406-444-1556
Mail: State Senate Helena, MT 59620