HELENA — A bill under consideration in the Montana Senate would give the Legislature’s majority party more control over interim committees that meet between sessions.

Senate Bill 122, sponsored by Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, would change the Legislature’s long-standing practice of having an equal number of seats on those committees reserved for Republicans and Democrats. 

Lawmakers use interim committees to research policies and craft new legislation between the Legislature’s every-other-year sessions. Those committees can also review administrative rules proposed by state agencies and push back on regulations with votes by a majority of members.

For years, interim committees have been explicitly bipartisan. That’s been an issue for Republicans, who have controlled a majority in the Legislature for the last decade. Republican lawmakers and their allies have said they’re frustrated the current system prevents Republicans from opposing new agency regulations unless they can get at least one Democrat on the relevant interim committee to join them.

Regier argued Monday that’s an undemocratic setup.

“A 50-50 makeup of interim committees does not reflect the will of the voters,” he said.

Critics of the proposed bill said they thought injecting partisanship into interim committees would make them less effective.

“I worry that if we become partisan in the interim we will get far less done, and it will not be the process that it has been to really look at issues that affect many, many Montanans throughout the state,” said Beth Brenneman, a lobbyist for Disability Rights Montana.

Lawmakers on the Senate Legislative Administration Committee will vote on Senate Bill 122 at a later date.

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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.