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I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of a rumor swirling this week that House Majority Leader Gordon Vance, R-Bozeman, prepared a “kill list” that he sent over to Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich, R-Bozeman.
According to the rumor, after transmittal Vance prepared a list of bills which passed in the House that he wanted Republican committee chairs to kill in the Senate.
Sources who claimed to have seen the purported kill list said it was one-page long and was made of up Republican and Democrat bills, including some measures that passed the full House by wide bi-partisan margins.
In an interview Wednesday Vance denied the existence of such a list.
“What I did do was have conversations with fellow legislators,” Vance said Wednesday when asked about the list. “Did I have more than one conversation, probably over beers, with friends of mine in the other house, sure I did.”
Vance said there was “nothing formal” and that he acted as an individual member of the House, not as the Republican House Majority Leader.
But Vance’s initial explanation conflicted with what Wittich told me later that day.
In an interview Wednesday afternoon Wittich said he received a printed list from “House leadership” that asked Senate leaders to “take a close look” at certain bills. Wittich said there approximately 25 bills on the list that covered a wide-variety of issues. Wittich said he probably still had the list but was not able to produce it for me at the time.
Wittich said it’s not uncommon for leaders from one house to ask caucus members in the other house to “pay close attention” to certain measures.
“A lot of times you don’t understand the importance of a bill when it fist comes across your desk,” Wittich said.
Wittich said he passed the list on to Republican committee chairs.
Sen. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, chairman of the Senate Local Government Committee, said he received a note from Wittich early last week asking him to “take no action” on a HB245, a bill by Rep. Champ Edmunds, R-Missoula, that authorizes counties to dedicate park land.
“I had never seen this before,” Buttrey said of the Wittich’s note. “My understanding was it came over from House leadership so I went over and asked House folks why they had trouble with the bill, but nobody seemed to know.”
Sen. Jon Sonju, chairman of the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee acknowledged that he also received a list but directed comments to Wittich.
“I can tell you that we are not holding on to any bills in my committee,” Sonju said.
Wittich said after he reviewed many of the bills on the list he wasn’t sure why the House leaders had concerns about those specific measures. Wittich said also said he didn’t know why Vance would deny preparing the list.
“There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘this is something that needs more careful review,’” Wittich said. “It’s hard to process hundreds of bills.”
When I followed up with Vance today he said his comments to me on Wednesday were a “specific answer to a specific question.” Vance said in general both caucuses create lists all the time.
“If you want to get general about it, we absolutely create all kinds of lists,” Vance said. “When thousands of bills are floating it’s hard to do it any other way.”
Vance said the existence of a “kill list” – as it was described to me by Republicans in the House and Senate who had knowledge of it – was “an unfounded rumor.”
“There are all kinds of things flying around, none of which are true,” Vance said.