Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, discusses a committee assignment request form during the Nov. 18, 2020 House GOP caucus meeting. Credit: Eric Dietrich / MTFP

HELENA — Committee leadership roles for the 2021 legislative session made public this week indicate that pragmatic Republicans in the Legislature’s “Solutions Caucus” faction will continue to play key roles in shaping state policy as Montana enters a new world of unified Republican control.

Most notably, newly elected Speaker of the House Wylie Galt, R-Martinsdale, has named longtime lawmaker Llew Jones as chair of the 2021 House Appropriations Committee. That puts Jones, a budget wonk who has been a key leader in the Solutions Caucus, in the driver’s seat as lawmakers work with Republican Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte to hammer out the state’s next two-year budget.

Legislative committees serve as a first line of review for proposed bills, hearing arguments for and against measures within their designated topic area and deciding which of the 1,000-plus bills proposed over the course of a session deserve debate before full legislative chambers. Budget committees — the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance and Claims Committee — take the lead in developing budget bills and also review other measures that intersect with the state’s finances.

Committee chairs run committee meetings, deciding when hearings for specific bills and votes are held, giving them power to shape the debates that determine whether bills they favor move forward. The chair of the House Appropriations Committee also sponsors the main state budget bill, House Bill 2.

In 2019, Rep. Nancy Ballance, a Solutions Caucus member, co-chaired the House Appropriations Committee with Rep. Carl Glimm, a hardline Republican.

House committee membership is determined by the Speaker of the House, and on the Senate side by the Senate’s Committee on Committees.

Jones, who has served in the Legislature since 2005, chaired the Senate Finance and Claims committee in 2015 and 2017. He also sponsored the 2017 bill that created Montana’s rainy day fund, which the state is now expected to tap as the coronavirus pandemic cuts into expected revenues.

In 2019, Jones and other members of the GOP’s Solutions Caucus frustrated hardline Republicans in the 2019 session by working with Democrats to pass Medicaid expansion renewal and other measures.

Jones’s appointment in particular appears to have caused some consternation on the Republican caucus’ right flank. The Montana Daily Gazette, a right-wing blog that often serves as a mouthpiece for hardline Republicans, published a post Monday accusing Galt of betraying hardliners by making a “devil’s bargain” with Jones over control of the appropriations committee.

“Few who voted for Galt expected him to give Llew Jones the most valued, influential, and prominent committee in the legislature,” the Daily Gazette wrote.

Jones said Tuesday that Galt had campaigned for the speaker role by promising to unite the GOP caucus and make committee appointments based on merit.

“It appears to me that’s what he’s doing,” Jones said.

Galt, who didn’t return a message seeking comment Tuesday, appears to have largely deferred to seniority in appointing committee chairs. He named several representatives who aligned with the Solutions Caucus in 2019 — Rep. Geraldine Custer, R-Forsyth; Rep. Ross Fitgzerald, R-Kalispell; and Rep. Wendy McKamey, R-Great Falls — as chairs of committees they chaired or vice-chaired during the 2019 session.

The new speaker also gave committee chairmanships to several lawmakers who were members of the “38 Specials,” the 38-or-so House Republicans who opposed Medicaid expansion renewal and otherwise kept their distance from the Solutions Caucus in 2019. Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, for example, was named chair of both the House Rules Committee and the House Energy, Telecommunications, and Federal Relations Committee, both positions he held in 2019. Rep. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, was again named chair of the House Human Services Committee. 

While the split between hard-line and comparatively moderate Republicans is less well-defined in the state Senate, committee chairmanships in that chamber also went to senators who aligned with each faction in 2019. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, will lead the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee for a second session. Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, will chair the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee for a third session. 

On the hardline side of the Senate GOP caucus, Sen. Steve Hinebauch, R-Wibaux, will chair the Senate Fish and Game Committee, and Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee for a third term.

A complete list of committee chairs for the Montana House and Senate is as follows:

2021 HOUSE COMMITTEES

Members appointed by Speaker of the House Wylie Galt

Budget committee

  • House Appropriations will be chaired by Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad.

Policy committees meeting daily during session

  • House Business and Labor will be chaired by Rep. Mark Noland, R-Bigfork. Noland was also the chair in 2019.
  • House Human Services will be chaired by Rep. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings. Lenz was also the chair in 2019.
  • House Judiciary will be chaired by Rep. Barry Usher, R-Billings. Usher was the GOP vice-chair in 2019.
  • House State Administration will be chaired by Rep. Wendy McKamey, R-Great Falls. McKamey was the GOP vice-chair in 2019.
  • House Taxation will be chaired by Rep. Becky Beard, R-Elliston. Beard was the GOP vice-chair in 2019.

Policy committees meeting Monday/Wednesday/Friday during session

  • House Education will be chaired by Rep. Seth Berglee, R-Joliet. Berglee was also chair in 2019.
  • House Energy, Telecommunications, and Federal Relations will be chaired by Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell. Skees was the GOP vice-chair in 2019.
  • House Natural Resources will be chaired by Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Libby. Gunderson served on the committee in 2019.
  • House Transportation will be chaired by Rep. Denley Loge, R-St. Regis. Loge was also the chair in 2019.

Policy committees meeting Tuesday/Thursday during session

  • House Agriculture will be chaired by Rep. Joshua Kassmier, R-Fort Benton. Kassmier served on the committee in 2019.
  • House Fish, Wildlife, and Parks will be chaired by Rep. Ross Fitzgerald, R-Fairfield. Fitzgerald was the GOP vice-chair in 2019.
  • House Local Government will be chaired by Rep. Geraldine Custer, R-Forsyth. Custer was also the chair in 2019.

Other committees meeting on call during session

  • House Ethics will be chaired by Rep. Terry Moore, R-Billings.
  • House Legislative Administration will be chaired by Rep. Jedediah Hinkle, R-Belgrade. Hinkle is a newly elected representative who previously served as a state senator.
  • House Rules will be chaired by Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell. Skees was also the chair in 2019.

2021 SENATE COMMITTEES

Members appointed by the Senate Committee on Committees, which consists of six Republican senators and is chaired by Sen. Gordon Vance, R-Belgrade.

Budget committee

  • Senate Finance & Claims will be chaired by Ryan Osmundson, R-Buffalo. Osmundson was also the chair in 2019.

Policy committees meeting daily during session

  • Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs will be chaired by Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls. Fitzpatrick was also the chair in 2019.
  • Senate Judiciary will be chaired by Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell. Regier was also the chair in 2019.
  • Senate Taxation will be chaired by Sen. Brian Hoven, R-Great Falls. Hoven was the committee’s GOP vice-chair in 2019.

Policy committees meeting Monday/Wednesday/Friday during session

  • Senate Education and Cultural Resources will be chaired by Sen. Daniel Salomon, R-Ronan. Salomon was also the chair in 2019.
  • Senate Local Government will be chaired by Sen. Terry Gauthier, R-Helena. Gauthier was the GOP vice-chair in 2019.
  • Senate Natural Resources will be chaired by Sen. Jeff Welborn, R-Dillon. Welborn was also the chair in 2019.
  • Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Safety will be chaired by Sen. David Howard, R-Park City. Howard was also the chair in 2019.
  • Senate State Administration will be chaired by Sen. Doug Kary, R-Billings. Kary was the GOP vice-chair in 2019.

Policy committees meeting Tuesday/Thursday during session

  • Senate Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation will be chaired by Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta. Lang was the GOP vice-chair in 2019.
  • Senate Energy and Telecommunications will be chaired by Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip. Ankney was also the chair in 2019.
  • Senate Fish and Game will be chaired by Sen. Steve Hinebauch, R-Wibaux. Hinebauch was the GOP vice-chair in 2019.
  • Senate Highways and Transportation will be chaired by Sen. Gordon Vance, R-Belgrade. Vance was also the chair in 2019.

Other committees meeting on call during session

  • Senate Ethics will be chaired by Sen. John Esp, R-Big Timber. Esp did not serve on the committee in 2019.
  • Senate Legislative Administration will be chaired by Sen. Bob Keenan, R-Big Timber. Kennan was also the chair in 2019.
  • Senate Rules will be chaired by Sen. Cary Smith, R-Billings. Smith was a committee member in 2019.

JOINT BUDGET SUBCOMMITTEES

Topic-focused budget subcommittees that include members of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance and Claims committees.

  • The General Government budget subcommittee will be chaired by Rep. Dan Bartel, R-Lewistown.
  • The Education budget subcommittee will be chaired by Rep. David Bedey, R-Hamilton.
  • The Health & Human Services budget subcommittee will be chaired by Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell.
  • The Justice budget subcommittee will be chaired by Rep. Bill Mercer, R-Billings.
  • The Natural Resources and Transportation budget subcommittee will be chaired by Rep. Kenneth Holmlund, R-Miles City.
  • The Long-Range Planning (Infrastructure) budget subcommittee will be chaired by Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula.

A full list of House committee assignments, including Democrats named as vice-chairs, is available at leg.mt.gov/content/Committees/Session/2021-House-Committees.pdf. A full list of Senate committee assignments is available at leg.mt.gov/content/Committees/Session/2021-Senate-Committees.pdf.

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Eric Dietrich is a journalist and data designer and the founder of the Long Streets economic reporting project. His reporting focuses broadly on Montana’s governance and economic opportunity, with particular focus on the state budget and tax policy. He also contributes data reporting across the MTFP newsroom. Before joining the MTFP staff in 2019, he worked for the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network and also earned an engineering degree from Montana State University. Contact Eric at edietrich@montanafreepress.org, 406-465-3386 ext. 2, and follow him on Twitter.