University Council Minutes: December 9, 2014

University Council Notes: Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Montana's Upcoming Legislative Session

Lobbyist and director of Alumni Relations Bill Johnston led the discussion on Montana's upcoming legislative session.

Johnston represents four campuses in legislature (UM-Missoula and our affiliates in Butte, Helena and Dillon). He also is lobbyist for the Montana University System.

He started lobbying in 2001. His first full session, there was no full coverage of the sessions, so you had to be in the room to follow, but the Capitol is WiFi-enabled now, making it easier than ever to follow bills’ progress remotely.

 Johnston outlined the 2015 leadership in the Senate and the House:

2015 Senate Leadership
President: Debby Barrett (R)
President Pro Tempore: Frederick "Eric" Moore (R)
Majority Leader: Matthew Rosendale (R)
Majority Whips: Ed Buttrey, Cary Smith (R)
Minority Leader: Jon Sesso (D)
Minority Whips: Robyn Driscoll (D), Tom Facey (D)

2015 House Leadership
Speaker: Austin Knudsen (R)
Speaker Pro Tempore: Lee Randall (R)
Majority Leader: Keith Regier (R)
Majority Whips: Jerry Bennett (R), Alan Doane (R), Greg Hertz (R), Sarah Lazloffy, (R)
Minority Leader: Chuck Hunter (D)
Minority Caucus Chair: Carolyn Pease-Lopez (D)
Minority Whips: Bryce Bennett (D), Margie MacDonald (D), Jenny Eck (D)

Committee on Committees: John Brenden (R), Dee Brown (R), Kristin Hansen (R), Rick Ripley (R), Janna Taylor (R), Chas Vincent (R)

Johnston encourages UM employees to voice their opinions to the Legislature, but asks that if they do, they make it clear they are speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the University. He added: If you want to comment, do NOT use your work email address. Please use your personal address to express personal opinions.

President Engstrom sent a letter via Campus Communication to all employees explaining this: “I would like to remind you that MUS employees cannot use public time, money, or other resources to support political candidates, positions, or ballot initiatives. You should not communicate directly to Legislators on personal matters using University equipment or during work hours; this also applies to traveling to Helena to testify on personal matters. Such actions must be taken on your own time and at your own expense. Please take a moment to check the Montana Code Annotated 2-2-121 regarding the rules of conduct for public officers and employees for more detailed information.”

The 2015 Legislature will determine fiscal years 2016 and 2017, since our state is funded on a two-year cycle.

Johnston outlined the four items the Montana University System is bringing to this session:

1. Present-Law Adjustment: $44 million for MUS (Consider this an inflation factor to cover such items as books for the library, utility costs, etc.)

2. Pay Plan for employees: In the past, based on resident, non-resident ratio of students

3. Long-range Building Program (LRBP): The Governor's budget included these items: renovation of Romney Hall at MSU, Clapp Building renovation at UM, retrofit for a building at Montana Tech, $5 million library update at MSU Billings

4. Research: $15 million as one-time-only money to generate economic development.

Johnston will also be watching a number of other bills that could affect the University system. He advises UM employees not to assume he is keyed in on all bills, though. He would rather have University members bring bills to his attention if they see one that could impact UM.

Johnston’s email:

The Legislature’s website is a good tool for following bills, knowing who’s on committees and how to contact legislators. The site also has a link to the live internet broadcasts during the session:

Johnston encourages audience to follow the legislative session online by looking up bills. Even if they don't have the exact name of the bill, they can use the search function on the website (to search by sponsor or subject). You can highlight a bill and sign up for alerts to follow it. 

Another resource: The Montana University’s webpage to track the legislature. Johnston says someone from MUS will read every bill facing the Legislature. Kevin McRae, Deputy Commissioner for Communications & Human Resources, will write a weekly update during the legislative session that you can find here.

Johnston said some UM employees may be called upon, depending on their expertise, to testify in Helena. If so, he would like you to let him know so he can help provide background for you, and help make it clear to legislators that you're not representing the University or MUS.