Rep. Llew Jones

March 3 is the transmittal midpoint of the 2023 session.

General bills that have not passed from the House to the Senate, and vice versa, by transmittal are effectively dead. Thus, this last week was filled with long hours and high emotion as legislators scrambled to keep their ideas alive.

Bargaining, amendments and aggressive tactics, including holding certain bills “hostage” for other bills, increased tension everywhere. And, sadly, bills of merit get lost in the turmoil. I watched two very positive education bills die in this frenzy. The two weeks leading into transmittal are my least favorite time in the legislature. But there are positives.

My HB587 had a great initial hearing this week. HB 587 represents a $117 million permanent property tax reduction over the next four years and has an ongoing mechanism that will ensure property tax reductions continue to occur as statewide property values increase. It is currently the largest ongoing property tax reduction package moving through the legislature.

My HB 588 that ensures provisional and emergency authorized teachers are included in the TEACH Act process to increase beginning teacher wages also had a positive first hearing. Of course, the pathway to the finish line is still distant, but so far things look good for these bills.

On the social bill vote that is most likely to earn me a political attack post card, I again voted against making judicial elections partisan. I recognize everyone running for office has a history, thus a judge likely has a political lean, but I fail to see how inviting the party machines, complete with endless dollars, fliers and attack ads, into the judges’ races improves our judicial system. My preference is apolitical judges who are not beholden to any party machine, thus make decisions based upon interpretation of the law.

Perhaps a politically unbiased judiciary is an unattainable utopia, but requiring judicial candidates to be partisan from the onset is a recipe to make matters worse. I may have considered the bill if it offered the option of Republican, Democrat or Independent, but it did not.

My song over the decades, along with my wife of 41 years, Carole, has been “Strong Enough to Bend.” Here are a few lyrics that I reflect upon when it becomes difficult to be civil and respectful:

There’s a tree out in the backyard

That never has been broken by the wind

And the reason its still standing

It was strong enough to bend

When you say something that you can’t take back

Big wind blows and you hear a little crack

When you say “Hey well I might be wrong”

You can sway with the wind till the storm is gone

When you start thinkin’ that you know it all

Big wind blows and a branch will fall

When you say “Hey this job takes two”

We can sway with the wind till the skies turn blue

It is possible to make principled compromise. It takes being strong enough to bend. I look forward to putting Helena in the rearview mirror and joining all of you back home for the short break that follows transmittal. It will be great to get out of the Helena bubble for a few days.

Thank you for allowing me to be your representative.

Rep. Llew Jones, a Republican, serves the 18th District of the Montana House of Representatives.

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