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Reflections

by By MIKE CUFFE
| February 6, 2024 7:00 AM

Recently the Montana Chamber of Commerce honored a number of folks for efforts in the 68th Legislative Session.  

Outstanding legislator was Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick (R Great Falls), Senate Majority Leader.

 Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras was honored for her work on “Reduction of Red Tape and Regulations,” and I carried several bills that fell under that heading.  A big one, SB 83 sponsored by me, combined two large commissions into the Montana Conservation Commission.

 I was among those named a “Champion of Business” by the Montana Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber rated our voting records on 11 bills and I had a perfect score. In addition, I sponsored one of those bills, SB 93, a modernization of our ballot initiative process.

This recognition falls in line with my campaign promises dating to 2010. Another honor was the “Outstanding Support Award” for the Montana National Guard and military retirees. Similarly, I was surprised with the “Spirit of PNWER” award, PNWER stands for Pacific NorthWest Economic Region, a large area including five NW states and five Canadian provinces. I served as PNWER president twice.

 Gov. Greg Gianforte came to my hometown of Eureka last spring  to sign SB 3 in front of a large group of timber industry and general citizens. SB 3 is a revision of forest land taxation laws. It was three years in the making and necessary to keep long time timber lands managed as timberlands. 

In a similar vein, Montana Loggers Association encouraged me to carry SB 448, which clarified “immediate attendance for slash burning,” meaning constant attendance in certain extremely wet or snow conditions would not necessary.  Just simple common sense.

During the session I chaired State Administration and Veteran’s Affairs or SAVA, the hot box for election integrity legislation, pensions and more. I carried a few of them.

Knowing we couldn’t get rid of voting machines, I doubled the number of hand count audits conducted in each county, each election. This originated as a suggestion from Lincoln County commissioners.  I also brought SB 338 to require a filing fee for all US Presidential  candidates on our ballot, at the suggestion of Secretary of State Christy Jacobsen. 

Senate President Jason Ellsworth assigned me the huge responsibility of chairing a joint special select committee on the new redistricting proposal. Consisting of two Republicans and one Democrat from the House and the Senate, we reviewed proposals presented by a five member commission.   

We had only a couple weeks to make recommendations on 150 legislative districts. We offered five changes, but only two minor changes were accepted by the commission. Nevertheless we did good work. The redistricting commission should have used all five.

I serve on Energy Telecommunications Committee and carried a couple big resolutions aimed at national politics and electricity. SJ 10, which opposed removal of Snake River Dams came at the urgent request of Montana Electrical Cooperatives Association. MECA also supported SB 16 which opposes the diversion of 26 percent of the Kootenai River away from Libby Dam, as allowed under Columbia River Treaty.

I am vice chair of Senate Long Range Planning joint budget committee which deals with infrastructure and grants allover the state. This involves funding for water projects to bridges, museums and much more. I carry most of these bills on the Senate floor and work of Long Range extends into the Interim with quarterly meetings.

More Interim work includes SAVA, the administrative committee for several agencies and offices and has emphasis on state pension plans. 

Also a special select committee on the siting process for new energy production facilities meets half of the Interim. My legislation created this committee because the current process must be streamlined to meet future power demands.

In 2023, I carried a total of 21 bills and resolutions. Regulation reduction bills came from PSC President Jim Brown, a fairness in emergency services pay bill for National Guard pilots flying on hazardous fire fighting duty per General Hronek, junk vehicle disposal for counties with MACO support, funeral home intern program revision, revise cabin site auction regulations at request of Auditor Troy Downing, revise sports betting commissions to keep more dollars in Montana and several governor appointments including the Commissioner on Political Practices.

Property taxes are on everyone’s mind -- me too!  

All legislators and Gov. Gianforte have this as top priority for next session. The solution is not a quick “band aid and go thing,” we need a good long term solution. Our governor has a solid and broad based commission working on this. I look forward to wrapping up my final 2025 Session with a good and fair property tax.  

Just an interesting sidenote, I have now lived in Helena for more than two years and four months. That is four months every odd numbered year since my first election of 2010.

That doesn’t count the many meetings, training sessions, etc., that happen throughout the year. Not bragging, not complaining. It comes with the territory. I asked for it. I am living my childhood dream.  

Thank you to my constituents.

- Senator Mike Cuffe