The Freshman Six



Six first-time representatives from Missoula packed their bags last January and headed to Helena to try their hand at representing the residents of Missoula. All but one entered the minority party in the Legislature. Every one of them experienced the frustrations of watching their bills die. No one complained about being forced to join the rule-making process so quickly.

These newcomers make up the majority of the nine-member Missoula delegation. And all six of them hope to be elected again in 2000 so that they can impart some of the same knowledge that has been passed to them during their 87-day stint as lawmakers.

Rosalie Buzzas, a Democrat representing House District 65, introduced four bills:

• HB 133 was the first school funding bill to be introduced in the session and, even though it didn't pass, many of the basic ideas, like increasing funds for special education, were included in Gov. Racicot's school bill, which did pass.

• HB 472 is another school funding bill that would have expanded the use of school districts' transportation funds for classroom field trips. Since this bill died in committee, districts' general funds will continue to pay for school field trips.

• HB 562, had it passed, would have established a state employee bonus program, offered to one person every two to three years, as a way of recognizing state employees that do exceptional work.

• HB 462 attempted to create minimum standards and required training for workers who treat chemically dependent people. It also would have created a master's degree program for these workers. The bill was tabled in committee.

Buzzas expects that, if elected to represent Missoula again, she will be much more effective the second time around.

"The biggest revelation to me was how critical it is to strategize and know where your opposition is," she says. "You need to push for issues, but you also need to have your eye on the bigger issue."

Democrats, she says, kept their eyes on the bigger issues this session and made a lot of positive strides while also defeating "a lot of really bad stuff."

Ron Erickson, a Democrat representing House District 64, introduced four bills:

• HB 434 did not pass but would have authorized local requirements for subdividers to pay for their impacts on schools.

• HB 520 would have required that a reclamation plan for metal mines provide sufficient measures to prevent the pollution of surface or ground water. This bill did not pass.

• HB 569 passed the House 71 to 29, but died in a Senate committee. It would have created tax incentives for businesses that conserve energy and fossil fuels by establishing transportation alternatives for employees.

• HB 634, if it had passed, would have required the state to pay cities for the fire and police protection of state agencies.

Because Erickson's alternative transportation bill fared well this session, he hopes to introduce it again, with some changes, if he's elected in 2000. And he plans to continue working for the people who elected him this time around.

"The legislators are really alive and awake to what the people are saying and I was pleased by that," he says. "The work is engaging and you simply have to have your head in it all the time to make it work. It was wonderful."

Erickson certainly kept his head in the legislative business the entire time-sometimes it was the only thing he was aware of. "It's a strange life," Erickson says. "You don't know what time of day it is or what day it is because you are so engaged."

Tom Facey, a Democrat representing House District 67, introduced six bills and one joint resolution, and had much better luck:

• HB 348 succeeded in changing a school board rule so that school boards do not have to meet in July.

• HB 665 did not pass; but the $6 million to $10 million in property tax relief that it proposed was included in another bill that did pass.

• HB 244 successfully raised the pay for retired judges who are called for service because another judge dies or gets sick. The pay was so low that retired judges often didn't want to work, Facey says.

• HB 383 was defeated in committee. It would have revised the involuntary retirement benefits and eligibility for judges.

• HB 395 revised the unemployment insurance benefits for part-time employees. Facey carried this bill after a constituent called to explain that her unemployment benefits were incredibly low after she was laid-off from a waitressing job. This bill eliminates the disadvantage of being self-employed part time.

• HJ 18 encouraged the study of broadcasting legislative deliberations.

• HB 650 did not pass, but the $100,000 a year that it proposed to give to basic adult education centers for welfare recipients was included in another bill that did.

Facey credits beginner's luck for his success in getting four bills passed in his first time ever as a legislator. However, just as other members of his freshman class noted, a representative's success relies mostly on the people he or she knows.

"I was stunned by the camaraderie and respect," Facey says, getting a little choked up. "You're talking to a person who doesn't believe anything you believe in-but you talk about family and children even though you have nothing in common. There was friendship and camaraderie on both sides of the aisle."

Gail Gutsche, a Democrat representing House District 66, introduced four bills:

• HB 643, had it passed, would have revised the bison management plan so that Fish, Wildlife and Parks managed the animals rather than the Department of Livestock.

• HB 453 would have revised the fertilizer laws so that fertilizers containing toxic waste would be prohibited. This bill did not pass.

• HB 509 passed, revising the laws that govern the appointment of a student to UM's Board of Regents.

• HB 600, which directed the Department of Environmental Quality to consider the protection of children and pregnant women from environmental hazards when conducting a risk assessment, died in committee.

Gutsche says that she has a much better understanding of the role staff members play in a successful session. "I have a good understanding now of how important and valuable they are to the whole process," she says. "Bill drafters are extremely important, knowledgeable, experienced and helpful. And they are invested in making the whole session successful."

She notes, however, that the success of this past session would not have happened without everyone working together. "The essence of the entire experience is that it includes process, people and issues," she says. "The process is how you do it, the people make it happen and the issues are why you are there."

Dick Haines, a Republican representing House District 63, introduced three bills and one joint resolution.

• HB 124 would have established a state special revenue fund, to which $100,000 would be allocated each year for fire prevention and other programs throughout the state. This bill passed the second reading in the House, but eventually failed.

• HB 646 would have provided a discount to people who paid their property taxes in full up front. Haines asked the committee to table the bill after running into logistical problems at the local level with that method of payment.

• HB 628 would have revised the school administration laws so that school districts could consolidate positions, so a superintendent, for example, could serve two small school districts. Haines chalks this bill up to a freshman mistake; the law already exists.

• HJ 33, which passed, calls for a study of the funding and management of wildlife resources by Fish, Wildlife and Parks. A study could find new sources of money for the management of wildlife. Right now wildlife management is funded by hunting and fishing licenses.

Haines is as impressed with the legislative staff members as Gutsche is. He says the amount of hard work and dedication on the part of every staff member and legislator was remarkable. And he adds that legislators from both major parties impressed him. "There were both Republicans and Democrats that I think very highly of," he says. "These were very smart, dedicated people."

Haines says these same people ensured the session was successful. "I really do think that in the long run the state gets good legislation," Haines says. "It's a convoluted, intricate system but every interest has a say."

After listening to all those interests for 87 days, Haines says he's taking a break.

"I am just coming out of decompression," he says, laughing. "It was intense."

Carol Williams, a Democrat representing House District 69, introduced two bills:

• HB 136, if it had passed, would have revised the laws governing the comprehensive health association.

• HB 406 failed on a party-line vote, but would have earmarked funds within the coal trust fund for education projects, like schools repairs or renovations.

As a former bills coordinator and employee in the chief clerk's office at the Legislature, Williams didn't feel the same anxiety that other freshman legislators endured the first few weeks of the session. But she understands all too well the frustrations of being a member of the minority party.

"I knew that there were precious few things that we were going to get passed as far as progressive, social-interest issues," she says. "But the power of having a few more progressive Democrats allowed us, a lot of times, to kill very bad bills. A lot of times we said, 'If we stick together, we can make a difference.'"

Williams is already anticipating the next session when, if elected again, she will be one of the "experienced" legislators.

"It was so energizing to be over there with a group of energetic freshmen," she says, "and knowing that we have such a responsibility if we come back, because we are going to be the seasoned people."


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