House to vote on new operating rules

HELENA (AP) — A legislative committee on Wednesday endorsed rules that aim to curb potential Republican infighting while reducing some of the powers of the House Speaker. The full House is scheduled to hold its final vote on the issue on Thursday.

The House Rules Committee voted 12-7 on a party-line vote to change the number of votes required to move a bill stuck in committee to the House floor from 60 to the number of House members in the majority party, which is 58 this session.

Democrats wanted to reduce that threshold to 51 votes, which would have allowed the 42-member minority party more chances to team up with moderate Republicans to advance certain measures.

Rep. Kim Abbott, D-Helena, moved to amend the bill to allow a simple majority to approve a “blast motion.”

“This rule, the way it stands now with a super majority actually allows a very small minority of members of our body to tie up legislation that the majority support,” she argued. “As a practical matter … you could have 10 members of our body practically eliminate health insurance for 100,000 people when you have 57 people that are willing to move a solution.”

The amendment failed 12-7.

Rep. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, who sponsored the Medicaid expansion bill as a senator in 2015 and is sponsoring a bill to continue the health care program for low-income residents this session, said he felt the blast motion compromise was reasonable.

“I think if you look in the past and why the blast motions had to be used on big policy is because games had been placed within the process,” he said Monday after being sworn in to the House. “The new rules are fair. It takes away game-playing.”

Other changes would make it more difficult for bills to be sent to a committee to be killed. The proposal would require hearings to be scheduled for all bills assigned to committees, would require just 51 votes to move a bill from one committee to another or to change the membership of a committee.

House Speaker Greg Hertz, R-Polson “really stepped up to the plate,” said Buttrey, who sponsored the Rules bill. “We worked hard to come up with something that was going to make the process better and that’s exactly what we did.”

He dismissed talk of factions in the Republican caucus.

“I think there are outside forces that were predicting or hoping for a big battle and that just didn’t happen and I don’t think it was meant to happen,” Buttrey said.