Update from Rep. Ingraham

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With the passing of time, I thought I should update you on how things were progressing for the State Administration & Veterans Affairs (SAVA) Committee since their first meeting that was held on July 11.

If you will recall, in addition to general oversight of those Departments under their purview, the SAVA committee was entrusted with two priorities for this interim. These priorities revolve around the two study assignments that the Legislative Council assigned to them that came as a result of the 2013 Legislative Session.

That first study is that of House Joint Resolution 1– The Study of the Office of Commissioner of Political Practices. The resolution requests that the committee examine: (1) the process for selecting a Commissioner of Political Practices; (2) the structure, composition and duties of the Office of Commissioner of Political Practices; and, (3) the enforcement authority of the Office of Commissioner of Political Practices, including options for ensuring more immediate consequences for violating campaign laws.

The second study is that of Senate Joint Resolution 14 – Identify opportunities to make combining primary and school elections feasible. The resolution requests the committee to: (1) examine existing dates, deadlines and other procedures in Montana law that would require adjustment in order to conduct combined elections; and, (2) examine changes that election administrators would need to implement to combine primary and school elections, including: (a) accommodating various administrative boundaries for jurisdictions holding elections, including state, legislative, county, school district, city and other district elections and reducing voter confusion about these boundaries; (b) administering the technical elements of combined elections, including the effects on overseas and military voters, different poll location and opening and closing times and which local government authority is responsible for election costs; and, (c) determining the responsibility for conducting combined elections that involve county election administrators and school district officials.

SJR 14 also asks that the SAVA Committee request the participation of the stakeholders in the election process, including election administrators, the Office of the Secretary of State, school administrators and officials and other interested parties as determined by the Committee.

In a brief overview of the SAVA Committee’s August 20th meeting regarding their two top priorities, the Chairwoman, Dee Brown appointed a Subcommittee, consisting of Representative Bryce Bennett, Representative Joanne Blyton and Representative Kathy Swanson to work on Senate Joint Resolution 14 (SJR 14) and scheduled their first meeting which was to be held on September 18th.

The Committee adopted a mid-sized approach to SJR 14 on combining primary and school elections and will primarily concentrate their efforts on gathering background information and defining what the real problems are that have led to the issue before them and to identify and analyze options to address those problems that surface. The Subcommittee along with their overview work on the subject matter has been asked to explore the technical feasibility of combining the elections.

The Subcommittee held their first meeting on September 18th and were presented an overview of election dates and deadlines presented by legislative staff and then the subcommittee proceeded with a roundtable discussion with election stakeholders. Those stakeholders present included the Secretary of State, Linda McCulloch and Lisa Kimmet, Deputy for Elections, Office of the Secretary of State, Nicole Thoutte, School Finance Specialist, Office of Public Instruction, Linda Stoll, Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders, Shantil Siaperas, Montana Association of Counties, Bob Vogel, Montana School Board Association, Denise Ulberg, Montana Association of School Business Officials, Nicki Beyer, School District Clerk, Sidney Schools, Maru Beveridge, member of the general public, Helena, Alec Hanson, Montana League of Cities and Towns, Marty Rehbein, Missoula Election Administrator, and Vicki Zeier, Missoula County Election Administrator.

Those present during the roundtable discussion primarily addressed three questions for consideration in regards to SJR 14: 1) what their interest was in the study; 2) based on the outline of dates and deadlines, is it administratively feasible from their perspective to combine primary and school elections; and, 3) should the Subcommittee continue to examine the challenges, consider options and potentially develop recommendations for how to combine these elections, both pros and cons.

The SAVA Committee adopted a mid-size approach to House Joint Resolution 1 at their August 20th meeting as well.

While they chose not to include in their study the examination of whether to replace the Commissioner with a commission or whether to create a new ethics office, the study will include: 1) a survey of how the 49 other states select the officers, boards or commissions in charge of state lobbying, ethics and campaign practice laws and of who sets the salaries for these officers, boards or commissions; 2) examine the Office’s efficiency in processing and posting online the reports filed with the Office of Political Commissioner; and, 3) examine how the Office educates candidates about campaign reporting requirements currently.

The next scheduled meeting for the State Administration and Veteran’s Affairs Interim Committee is scheduled for October 21st, 2013. Remember, if you’d like to see how things are progressing in greater detail, you can access more information about this committee and their work by going to www.leg.mt.gov.

Now it’s your turn to “Keep in Touch”. I can be reached via e-mail at pathd13@blackfoot.net, or call me at 827-4652 or by mail at P.O. Box 1151, Thompson Falls, Montana 59873.

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