[Image via aarp]
The debate in Montana about conducting a May 25 special Congressional election exclusively by mail reached a flashpoint yesterday, as a House committee tabled the bill after supporters attempted to force a vote – but now supporters are going to attempt to “blast” the bill to the House floor. NBCMontana has more:
Montana lawmakers voted in an 11-8 vote to table Senate Bill 305 in the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
SB 305 would allow Montana counties to decide if they wanted to hold an all-vote-by-mail election on the May 25 special election to replace former Rep. Ryan Zinke. Supporters say the bill would save counties thousands of dollars in election fees. Opponents say the bill would reduce the accessibility of voting.
State Rep. Ellie Hill Smith (D-Missoula) introduced the bill in the executive action portion of the HJC meeting Wednesday, claiming county elections offices needed answers on the bill for planning purposes.
State Rep. Theresa Manzella (R-Hamilton) moved to table the bill at the end of the committee meeting Wednesday, because legislators had other meetings to get to. She said in a statement, “We were out of time. Period. Thus I made the substitute motion to table (the bill), which passed.”
After the party-line vote, committee members blamed one another for the bill’s tabling:
Hill Smith delivered a heated speech following the vote to table, saying Wednesday was one of the last days to get Senate bills through committee to the House floor for a final vote. She was upset the bill was tabled without prior discussion.
“In my four terms in the Montana Legislature bills of this magnitude have always the respect of the committee,” Hill Smith said. “Partisan hijinks is what we don’t do in this capitol. This is not how we do business. I think it’s a shame we gave (up) on this bill that will literally impact every single one of our constituents.”
State Rep. Bob Brown (R-Thompson Falls) fired back. “I believed this was a bill we needed to have some real discussion on. We still have some time before we have to really act on that bill and to give it the discussion it deserves and the people of Montana deserve,” he said.
Supporters of the bill are currently considering an effort to force a vote in the full House:
Hill Smith vowed at the end of the meeting to “blast” the bill to the House floor.
When a bill is tabled it is essentially dead. However, if a majority of House members approve taking it out of committee, the measure can be “blasted” out of committee and onto the floor for a vote. Supporters would need 3/5 of the House members to approve a “blast.”
[Bill sponsor Sen. Steve] Fitzpatrick says there is still hope for supporters. “Nothing is ever dead in the legislative process. They can always revisit a bill (or) see if they can get enough votes and pass it out of committee. That’s always a possibility; I think the reality is it’s probably dead. I mean, I wouldn’t say its 100-percent dead, but more than likely it’s dead…”
There is mixed word on when the bill could be blasted to the House floor. Some legislators say it could be as early as Wednesday or as late as next week.
The bill passed the senate in a vote of 37-13.
As I’ve already noted, time is running short to make the decision about the special election – there was substantial support at the local level for the mail election as a cost-saving measure but it now appears increasingly likely that counties will need to prepare polling places instead. It’ll be interesting to see if supporters are able to overcome the increasingly partisan crossfire and muster enough support to blast the bill to the floor – either way, we should know in the next several days. Stay tuned …