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Flathead Water Compact bill heading to Rules Committee of Montan - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana

Flathead Water Compact bill heading to Rules Committee of Montana Legislature

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HELENA -- After a lengthy hearing on Saturday, the fate of a bill to implement the Flathead Water Compact will be in the hands of the House Rules Committee on Tuesday.

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee  — minus Rep. Bruce Meyers (R-Box Elder), who voted with Democrats  — on Monday morning made 10 amendments to House Bill 262, which would implement the negotiated compact. 

Democrats on the panel protested that any amendments could blow up the package, which has been years in the making. 

“This whole situation is wrapped up in bundles and swaths of rags of ignorance,” said MT Rep. Carolyn Pease-Lopez (D-Billings). 

Republicans didn't get to all 13 amendments that had been drawn up, instead sending it to the floor with a “Do Not Pass” motion. 

That appeared to be an attempt to remove the Democrats' ability to bring the matter to a floor vote using a so-called “silver bullet.” 

“Let's quit this charade,” MT Rep. Ellie Hill (D-Missoula), said in the committee hearing. “This is the minority part of this Legislature trying to control the will of a bipartisan majority. And everyone at this table knows it.” 

A deal at the start of the session gave each side six such silver bullets, which would allow them to “blast” a bill from committee onto the floor with a simple majority of representatives, instead of the two-thirds generally required for a “blast.” 

MT Rep. Chuck Hunter, the House Minority Leader, protested the adverse committee report on the floor Monday; House Speaker Austin Knudsen rejected his protest, and referred the matter to the Rules Committee, which meets Tuesday at 11 a.m. 

That leaves unclear whether the bill's death is permanent. 

Last week, a similar confrontation played out, with Democrats (joined by about a dozen Republicans) winning in the end. 

In that case, Republicans on the House Human Services Committee sent Senate Bill 405, the Medicaid expansion bill sponsored by MT Sen. Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls), to the House floor with an adverse report. 

Hunter called for that move to be declared out of order; after a couple of trips to the Rules Committee and a handful of procedural votes, the Democrats and their allies wrangled the measure to the floor over Republican protests that the rules were being ignored. 

SB 405 eventually passed with a majority vote. 

Democrats say the majority of House members support the compact bill, which supporters say will stave off a massive amount of litigation that could reduce the water rights of users in a large part of the state. 

Opponents say it has constitutional problems and would create new federal water rights for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. 

“The water in Montana is controlled by the state of Montana for all of us,” said MT Rep. Keith Regier (R-Kalispell), arguing for one of the amendments. “Not just one group.”
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