The 2009 legislative session started Jan. 5 and, from the looks of it, will be characterized primarily by fire and ice. The fire comes from the push for more coal-fired power plants and the inevitable heated clashes between the political parties. The budget, meanwhile, will be iced to compensate for plummeting revenues in the ongoing national economic collapse.
With more than 2,500 bill draft requests so far, there are certainly plenty of opportunities to do the right things for Montana’s future—and plenty of opportunities to do the wrong things, too. No one knows how it will all end after the scheduled 90 days of wrangling, but in the meantime, here’s a look at the players, the issues and the likely course of Montana’s 61st Legislature......
| Looking forward |
A lot of the talk in Helena over the next three months will focus on the unenviable task of addressing monumental problems with scarce resources to help fund solutions. Through that gloomy outlook and the finger pointing that’s sure to follow, it’s easy to lose sight of how the state’s next generation of leaders are stepping up.
Consider Matt Elsaesser, at 26 the youngest member of the Helena City Commission, who firmly believes that “now is the time to make long-range plans.” Elsaesser, who founded and still heads The Student Advocates for Valuing the Environment Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to recycling, successfully led the effort to pass the state’s first gray water law last session. That bill allows citizens to re-use non-sewage domestic wastewater for landscape irrigation, thus reducing both water demand and relieving the burden on sewage treatment facilities.
This session, Elsaesser is back pushing for another visionary, proactive measure: an electric car bill that makes registering medium-speed plug-in vehicles, which are primarily for urban use, more affordable.
“We’re looking forward to passing effective bills to establish conservation in our everyday infrastructure,” he says. “We’d like to establish a new model for how households can save water and establish alternative transportation within our current infrastructure using technology that is widely available today.”
Elsaesser says he’s working closely with one of the legislature’s younger members, Sen. John Brueggeman, R-Polson, and is “very encouraged by how many young people I see up there from both sides of the aisle working to address the environmental challenges of our time. We need to step up now to get these things in place. Our strong push for conservation is not entirely realized yet, but we’re the ones who are going to have to do it.”
Elsaesser is just one example of those working hard in Helena. In most cases, citizens like Elsaesser and most of our legislators aren’t professional politicians, but our friends and neighbors, edged into the maelstrom of the legislative arena and doing their best to hammer out solutions to the pressing problems of our time. The best thing the rest of us can do is to track the issues and let our legislators know where we, their constituents, stand on any given issue. Thanks to the Internet, the methods for reading bills, tracking the session and contacting legislators are easier than ever (see sidebar, page 17).
And finally, although you aren’t likely to agree with all of their decisions, don’t forget to at least thank them for their dedication to the difficult process of making public policy. It won’t cost you a dime, but it will mean the world to legislators, who will spend months living on cocktail party chicken wings, to know their efforts are appreciated.
Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Read his weekly column on page 10, or contact Ochenski at email@example.com.