© 2013 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana

In another move sure to raise public concern, members of the legislature moved an amended SB 265 to the House Appropriations Committee on Friday April 12, 2013 at 9:00 a.m.  Although Concerned Citizens was made aware of and reported the attempts to amend Senator Jackson’s bill, we and the rest of the public were not advised that the bill would be heard this morning. Because there was no public notice, only Helena insiders were able to testify.  Those testifying in support of the amended S.B. 265 included E.J. Redding, Jon Metropolis (attorney for the FJBC), the Montana Water Resources Association, the Montana Association of Realtors, and the Attorney General’s office.  There was no opposition.

[Note:  Concerned Citizens has inquired as to the legality of this hearing in light of the fact that the public was not given 72 hours notice as required by House Rules and no reason was given to amend the time schedule ‘pursuant to circumstances’.  We will keep you apprised]

As you recall, S.B. 265 was submitted and passed the Senate and House natural resources committees as a ‘clean’ bill to extend the Compact Commission for two years.  Despite substantive public recommendations to place ‘sideboards’ on the bill—in other words, eliminating the current CSKT compact from consideration and changing the membership of the Compact Commission, for example, the bill sponsor believed at the time that a ‘clean’ bill would have more chance of passing.  Indeed, the Senate and House Natural Resources Committee Chairmen specifically excluded the public from discussing the Compact itself and presenting any information to inform legislators just how bad the Compact was.  Hundreds of people testified for the ‘clean’ SB 265 in Helena.

SB 265 was touted as an alternative option in case the CSKT Compact (HB 629) failed.  The Compact did fail in the House Judiciary Committee and the blast motion to the floor also failed by a wide margin on April 3.

Not satisfied with the failure of HB 629 and the existence of SB 265 as an alternative, proponents of the Compact and other ‘well intentioned’ individuals worked behind the scenes to craft Dan Salomon’s bill, HB 636, which would have provided a direct pathway for the 2015 legislature to approve the existing CSKT Compact, funding to ‘pre-implement’ components of it, and funding to provide a ‘study’ of the compact by the Legislature’s interim water policy subcommittee.  Again, dozens of citizens mobilized to oppose this poor excuse of a bill to circumvent the public and legislative ‘no’ votes.  HB 636 was defeated by the House Appropriations committee by a vote of 11-10, with several so-called republican votes in favor of it.  During the hearing it was very apparent that this Committee has no idea what the CSKT Compact was about and the Chairman did not permit testimony on the Compact.  It is again disturbing that no public policy debate was considered by this Committee, or the legislature, on the lack of merit of continuing to propose the existing CSKT Compact in HB 636.  Proponents and architects of HB 636 seemed determined to “sweeten the pie” with taxpayer money and attempt to ‘keep the Tribes at the table’ by showing money as ‘good faith’.

Still not satisfied with the failure of HB 636 and simply a return to the negotiation table, “Helena insiders” with the assistance of legislators moved to modify SB 265.  Several iterations of amendments were discussed but all settled on an amendment that provides $40,000 of taxpayer money for the legislature’s interim water policy committee to conduct a ‘study’ of the existing Compact and ‘recommendations’ to the Compact Commission by September 2014.  The interim water policy committee will likely consist of the same people who worked so hard to produce HB 636 and to amend SB 265.  Supposedly the interim committee will find out ‘why the public was so concerned’ and ‘verify’ those concerns.

Why don’t we feel confident that this will solve the problems with the current CSKT Compact?

For starters, is there any guarantee that the Compact Commission membership—and most importantly, philosophy—will change?  Is there any hope that an interim legislative committee will actually incorporate the public’s concerns and have the fortitude to produce a report that will change the Compact?  Given the Tribes’ unwillingness to back off any of its positions—including ownership of all water and the unitary management ordinance—is there any guarantee that anything will change about the existing Compact in two years?  Finally, will the ‘new’ Compact Commission ever be able to say ‘no’ to things that damage Montanans or illegal takings, since they have been unable to do so for more than a decade?

We believe it is likely that in 2015, Montana will be faced with the same terrible compact and ultimately these issues will have to be resolved in a court of law.  Then you can raise the question on the waste of taxpayers money on this compact over the last twenty years.

It seems obvious to us that the Montana legislature is willing to bend over backwards to meet the Tribes’ interests.  What about the public interest of 360,000 Montanans?

With the passage of this bill, the legislature will hand the citizens of Montana another two years of strife, which we will be paying for, and another two years of taking and ignoring the public interest.

How long will it be before our “representatives” begin telling us this bill resulted from yet one more “major concession” by tribal leadership?

Each and every politician that is involved in this effort must be watched and held accountable for their actions.  Trust is earned, not given.

So, Montana legislators, prove you are worthy of our support.

Here’s a link to the newly amended bill SB265:

http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/2013/billpdf/SB0265.pdf

Much more to come.

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