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Property Owners Rate Lawmakers; Republicans Score Higher Than Democrats

Two state lawmakers from the Hi-Line earned Property Rights Hero Awards from the United Property Owners of Montana.

Two others received good grades for their voting records during then 2019 legislative session. 

Three others fared poorly on the group’s biennial ranking of state lawmakers.

As is often the case, the Republicans did well and the Democrats fared poorly.

Rep. Joshua Kassmier, R-Fort Benton, picked up a hero award for his sponsorship of legislation that would give county governments the right to curb bison being transported through their jurisdictions. In recent years, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has transported bison from the Yellowstone National Park area to Fort Peck and Fort Belknap. 

State Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta, got the award for his sponsorship of legislation addressing sage grouse conservation, an issue that concerns residents in his native Phillips County and northern Blaine County, which are in his district. He also represents northeast Hill County.

In all, lawmakers were rated on 12 issues that came before them in the 2019 session. Some issues were weighted of greater importance than others.

The rankings of Hi-Line lawmakers:

  • Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta, got a 110 percent rating. Lawmakers get “extra credit” for sponsoring legislation supported by the group.
  • Sen. Frank Smith, D-Wolf Point, who represents Fort Belknap, Rocky Boy and surrounding areas, received a 63 percent ranking, the highest of any Democrat in either house, but lower than any Republican.
  • Sen. Russ Tempel, R-Chester, got an 80 percent ranking on issues important to the association.
  • Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, got a 43 percent rating.
  • Kassmier got a 103 percent rating.
  • Rep. Casey Knudsen, R-Malta, had a perfect 100 percent rating.
  • Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy was rated as voting correctly 35 percent of the time.

The property owners group is one of several organizations that rank lawmakers based on their voting and sponsorship records.

The association felt most strongly about Senate Bill 224, which would have allowed public access on some roads that landowners consider private. The bill passed the Senate, but was defeated in a House committee. County commissioners would have been authorized to charge people who gated such roads a $500 fine for each day of violation.

The association said that SB 224 was an attempt to force access across private land. 

“Under this bill, activists could claim any road to be public and ask the county commission to impose a $500 per day fine on the landowner for gating that road,” the association wrote.

Supporters said they were defending the longstanding Montana tradition of granting liberal access for hunters, fishermen and hikers.

Tempel broke with the Republicans and supported the access, while Smith broke with the Democrats to oppose the change. 

The rest of the Hi-Line Democrats voted for the expanded access while Republicans opposed it. 

Lang’s bill, SB 299, limiting the sage grouse protection mandates, also won the support of Republicans, with opposition coming largely from Democrats.

Again, Tempel broke with his party to oppose the changes, while Smith voted in favor of the changes. Smith represents some of the areas affected by the legislation in northeast Montana.

The entire Hi-Line delegation voted for SB 299 except Windy Boy, who voted no.

The bill passed both houses and became law.

Also heavily weighted in the rankings was a resolution that would have asked the federal Bureau of Land Management to reject a request from American Prairie Reserve to change grazing practices on its lands. 

“The APR’s application is the first step to establishing a free-roaming bison range,” the property owners group said. 

Bachmeier and Windy Boy voted “the wrong way,” according to the property owners group and opposed the resolution, which passed both houses. The rest of the Hi-Line delegation voted yes.

Email John Kelleher at john@havreherald.com

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