House Speaker Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, explains procedure on the House floor April 23.

Photo and Story By Michael Wright
Community News Service
UM School of Journalism

On the last day of the 64th Montana Legislature, leaders in both houses lauded compromises made on the budget and other major pieces of legislation, even though the final measure died in the House after a five-day political standoff.

“Montanans should be proud,” Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock said at a press conference after adjournment. “I am pleased with what we got done.”

Bullock listed off the his priority bills that passed -- the Flathead Water Compact, Medicaid expansion and campaign finance reform. Those bills were all carried by Republican senators and passed both houses with the support of Democrats and groups of moderate Republicans.

Sen. Eric Moore, R-Miles City, who didn’t support any of those measures, said they showed who controlled the session.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that Republicans were in the majority, but conservatives were not,” Moore said.

House Speaker Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, said that sort of breakdown within the Republican Party has become common, with some Republicans finding they have significant power by joining with Democrats to pass bills.

“It’s something we’ve dealt with every session since I’ve been here,” Knudsen said.

The split was evident when, just before the end, a conservative wing of the House Republicans killed an infrastructure deal negotiated by the governor’s office and House and Senate leaders, ending the last battle of the 64th Montana Legislature.

Senate Bill 416, sponsored by Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey, failed its final vote in the House for the fourth time Monday, and a revival effort Tuesday didn’t get the support it needed.

The bill would have spent $150 million on infrastructure projects around the state, including university buildings, a museum and a veterans center. Also included was more than $12 million directly for eastern Montana, where infrastructure has been hit hard by the Bakken oil boom.

But, because the bill borrowed money through bonding -- about $100 million -- it needed 67 votes in the House, which proved a high mountain to climb. Knudsen, who was involved in the negotiations, said he and others knew that going in.

“We always knew it was a large number,” Knudsen said.

Many who voted against the bill are completely against the state borrowing money, and others opposed how the projects in the bill were prioritized. Two of the top projects in the bill were a renovation of Montana State University’s Romney Hall and a new building for the Montana Historical Society. Knudsen said those projects were “anchors on 416’s neck.”

Negotiations on the bill took place behind closed doors in the final weeks of the session. The final deal hit the House floor for the first time April 23, clearing an initial vote 70-30, a level of support the bill would never see again. It needed to pass a final vote before heading to the Senate for approval. In four tries on separate days, the bill came close, but never cleared the 67 vote hurdle.

“I’m disappointed that a small extreme faction in the House … blocked this proposal,” Bullock said.

Some House members tried to amend the bill to reduce the level of borrowing and add in projects they felt were more important.

Rep. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, pushed to get more funding for schools, noting an elementary school in his district recently had a boiler go out. He said funding some projects meant not funding others, and that he thinks projects for local schools are more important than those prioritized in Senate Bill 416.

“I’m not willing to make that trade off,” Hertz said.

But supporters of the bill weren’t going to make any changes, and an amendment to cut the bonding and prioritize local school projects failed.

Despite Senate Bill 416 going down, the Legislature did pass a group of bills that spends nearly $100 million in projects across the state, including city water system updates, Fish, Wildlife and Parks habitat programs and some university maintenance.

 Budget deal clears both chambers

 Representatives from the governor’s office and legislators met in the final weeks of the legislative session to cut a deal on House Bill 2, which lines out about $10 billion in allocations to state agencies for the next two years.

Budget leaders from both houses worked with Gov. Steve Bullock's administration to come to a deal that included adding in a pay raise for state employees, giving them a 50 cent increase in both 2016 and 2017. That proposal originally appeared in House Bill 13, which was killed earlier in the session.

Including the pay plan also secures a likely tuition freeze for in-state students at Montana universities.

But the budget negotiations hit an impasse on the governor’s $37 million "Early Edge" preschool plan. That proposal had little support from Republicans, who said that the price tag was too high and that it could have an adverse effect on rural school districts. Offers from Republicans to fund a watered-down version of the plan contingent on rule changes by the Board of Public Education went nowhere, and the proposal stayed out of the budget.

Some House members said they were uncomfortable with the level of government spending -- an increase of about 6 percent -- but recognized that they had to pass the budget.

“We have not tamed the juggernaut of government spending in Montana,” said Rep. Tom Burnett, R-Bozeman.

Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, the primary sponsor of House Bill 2, agreed with Burnett, but said she thinks the negotiations got the bill to a good place.

“I think we’ve come up with the best product we can,” Ballance said.

Motl survives hostile Senate confirmation

One of the most hotly debated measures in the waning days of the Legislature was the Senate's narrow confirmation of Jonathan Motl to the post of Commissioner of Political Practices.

Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Jonathan Motl in June 2013. Motl was a lawyer in the Helena area before becoming commissioner.

While in office, he has pursued several complaints against Republicans, winning him few friends on that side of the aisle. During a public hearing on his confirmation, several of his former business partners and his staff spoke in support of him.

Opposition came from the Montana Republican Party, Republican legislators and former legislative candidates who felt wronged by Motl.

Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, spoke against Motl at the hearing, saying Motl has used the office for a “crusade against conservatives, and only conservatives.”

“He will bring further shame to this office, and to justice itself,” Wittich said. Wittich is set to go to trial over a 2010 complaint filed against him, a case he said he plans on winning, though it will cost him a lot of time and money.

The resolution supporting Motl’s confirmation was tabled by the committee, then revived late last week after the Senate OK’d the budget deal.

Opponents of his confirmation said his main focus is taking down Republicans, and that he likes litigation.

“He is a litigator,” said Sen. Dee Brown, R-Hungry Horse. “I believe this job needs an educator, not a litigator,”

Brown added that she knows people who are afraid to run for office because Motl is the commissioner.

Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, said Motl is a “tyrant who’s supposed to be a referee.”

On the other hand, Sen. Jon Sesso, D-Butte, said he thinks Motl has proven himself “to be fair and unbiased.”

Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, said legislators shouldn’t worry so much about who is enforcing the law, but more on following it.

“If we’re in compliance with the law then we shouldn’t have to worry about the commissioner knocking on our door,” Windy Boy said.

All Democrats and eight Republicans voted to confirm Motl.   

- Michael Wright is a reporter for the Community News Service at the University of Montana School of Journalism. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.


Jonnie would like you to support

Angel Horses Forever Home

by making a donation and helping spread the word. 



Helen raised and rode her beautiful, Arabian mare 'Pie' until old age took that away.  'Pie' was Helen's pride and joy, she loved her horse and the chance to spend time with her.  Her husband contacted Angel Horses with Helen's last wish to ride her horse once again.  We rallied some volunteers, gathered tack and rose to the occasion!  At 80 something and suffering from numerous health issues, Helen looked like a young girl atop her favorite horse!  It was a beautiful summer day , her husband at her side, flanked by our volunteers, Helen was able to ride 'Pie' around the grounds.  She struck a pose of strength and pride!  Helen passed away that following fall.

Angel Horses is a unique, human services organization that uses rescued horses and donkeys in a comfort and therapy environment.  We make memories and specialize in giving people the opportunity to enjoy time with our horses and donkeys in a safe, clean and loving environment where folks can forget their cares and the challenges of everyday life. 

It is heart wrenching to receive a call from a mother who is suffering from cancer, she wants to bring her kids out to spend time with them and our horses, the weather is cold and snowy, because we do not have an indoor areana, we have to turn her away!  It is devastating to receive a call from a grandfather whose grandson witnesses a horrific event, he wants to come out to a safe place that's wholesome and fun so he and his grandson  can escape the atrocities occuring in their life, we have to say, 'Not now, the bad weather does not permit that as we are an outdoor facility, but maybe next week or so.'  You can feel the dissapointment and despair, it brings tears to our eyes.

We serve special needs kids, especially those affected by autism and Asperger's, at risk youth, individuals and families suffering from illnesses, senior citizens and veterans.  Through the use of horses and donkeys, we create an environment that is safe and fun, where people can come and spend time with the animals, brushing and petting them, riding if they are able. 

Angel Horses, Inc. is a 501 (c) organization established in 2009.  We are an outdoor facility, operating May through September, weather permitting, which limits our services to those in need.  We are currently conducting a fundraising campaign to purchase a new property that will allow us to operate year round.

The new property has an indoor arena, where horses could be available for petting, grooming and riding, no matter what the weather, an outdoor picnic area with a gazebo and a chapel where one can find inner peace.  Future plans include the addition of an old fashioned western town, complete with general store, cafe, saloon and livery stable where our visitors can step back in time; they can play checkers and cards, watch old western movies, play horseshoes, watch horses being shod, have a sandwich and a beverage and most of all enjoy the fellowship of sharing time and stories with others!

Angel Horses needs your help to make this become a reality for the thousands of folks seeking our services, which are extremely limited at the present time.  Help put a smile on their faces, it will warm your heart!



April 19, 2017
Billings - Know Your Rights: Copyright and Intellectual Property Rights for Artists

Legal information session
Thursday, April 20

6:30-7:30 p.m.
Free museum admission from 6-8 p.m.
An information session designed for all artists, writers, and makers.  Attorneys Bob Griffin, Shalise Zobel, and Isaac Potter from Crowley Fleck PLLP and Billings attorney Jennifer L. Webber of WEBBERpllc will share what you need to know to protect your work.  Sponsored by the Intellectual Property Section of the State Bar of Montana.

Copyright and Intellectual Property Rights for Artists

April 18, 2017

Billings, Montana - Yellowstone Art Museum’s ArtWalk will once again begin with an early bird starting at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 5, 2017.  Admission to the museum is free during ArtWalk from 4–9 p.m. combined with Jam at the YAM featuring live music by Rod Tochihara. View our current exhibitions including three new exhibitions, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: In the Footsteps of My Ancestors, Archaea: Rosane Volchan O'Conor, and Art in Action: Marking Time.

This ArtWalk will also feature new work in the Art Collectors’ Corner by Jason and Wendy Jam. See the fourth installment of their very popular whimsical series playfully named “Jamigurumi.” Wendy’s crocheted dolls are a specific type of doll creation known as Amigurumi–the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small, stuffed yarn creatures. Jason’s beautiful illustrations including the doll make for unique wonderfully playful gifts and are available for purchase in the Art Collectors’ Corner.

The YAM also is exhibiting an original Andy Warhol piece titled Lenin. This stunning work is located within Boundless Visions, but is currently on loan from an anonymous lender until the end of the day on Sunday, June 4th. See other European masterpieces on loan for just a short time.

A cash bar and light hors d’oeuvres are provided during ArtWalk. First drink is free for new member sign-ups. The YAM also has free parking.




Exhibitions currently on view:

Boundless Visions: Selections from the Permanent Collection

Exhibition is ongoing

Boundless Visions features changing selections from the YAM's permanent collections, including art from the late nineteenth century to the present. This long-term exhibition is the only exhibition in Montana where you can learn the story of art in this region from its beginnings to the present day.

TITLE SPONSORS: U.S. Bank, David Orser and Ossie Abrams

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: In the Footsteps of My Ancestors

March 23–July 16, 2017

Montana Gallery

This is the first major solo exhibition of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s work in her native state of Montana in over a generation.  In keeping with the YAM’s Montana Masters series goals, Smith is a mature, late-career artist with extraordinary aesthetic, intellectual, and curatorial achievements to her credit.  The evolution of her lifelong investigations is a cornerstone of this exhibition. TITLE SPONSORS:  Institute of Museum and Library Services, National Endowment for the Arts, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

Art in Action: Marking Time

March 23–August 6, 2017

NW Projects Gallery

Make your own mark at the YAM as we continue with the second in a series of participatory exhibitions, Art in Action, designed to activate and demonstrate museum visitors’ curiosity and creativity. Visitors will leave their marks on the walls of the YAM’s Northwest Projects Gallery, signifying their presence in the world of imagination. Participants may choose to visit over and over in order to interact with the marks left behind by others.


Archaea: Rosane Volchan O’Conor

March 23–August 6, 2017

Charles M. Bair Family Gallery

Rosane Volchan O’Conor’s unique installation is inspired by the Yellowstone’s history and micro-biome. Using “archaea”—microscopic organisms that survive in extreme environments—as a focal point, the artist’s immersive installation is suggestive of these forms crawling off the walls, hanging crystalized in space, and mutating into clusters across the floor.  Using a variety of conventional and unconventional materials, O’Conor has transformed the YAM’s gallery into a miniature universe. TITLE SPONSORS: Anonymous, Dr. Donald and Carol Roberts

Facebook address:


Directions: Located on the corner of 4th Avenue and North 27th Street, across from the Gazette building and next to Denny’s.

Image credits:

  • View of the Archaea: Rosane Volchan O'Conor installation at the YAM
  • Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, The Swamp, 2015, oil on canvas
  • Scratching Posts, Illustration by Jason Jam and crochet by Wendy Jam
  • Andy Warhol, Lenin © 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The newest venue for music, drinks, and a great after-work vibe is the Yellowstone Art Museum.  You already enjoy the popular summer event, Alive After 5, and this new event will extend the opportunity into the spring and fall to relax in a great downtown location to enjoy excellent local music of all kinds.

After 5-Unplugged will happen on Thursday evenings from 5 – 8 p.m. at the YAM. 

  • April 27 – Ed Kemmick and the Peach Pickers.
  • May 25 – Parker Brown Trio
  • October 12 – Song Dog Serenade
  • November 16 – John Roberts’ Latin Jazz

$3 cover charge and wristband for all adults 21 and over.  Free admission if under 21.  Be on the lookout for promotional cards that you can show to cut the wristband cost down to $1, available while supplies last at sponsors’ locations.  Free parking, full bar, and food truck on site.  All of the museum’s galleries will be open.

After 5-Unplugged is sponsored by U.S. Bank, Computers Unlimited, the Billings Gazette, Downtown Billings, and Billings Cultural Partners.