Saturday, January 29, 2011

First cracks in decorum beginning to surface



1.dignified propriety of behavior, speech, dress, etc.

2. the quality or state of being decorous; orderliness; regularity.

3. an observance or requirement of polite society.

On Monday Senate Minority Whip Kim Gillan, D-Billings, rose on the Senate floor on a point of personal privilege to raise the issue of Decorum. (Click here and fast forward to 41:45).

According to Gillan, she received several e-mails last weekend that questioned her behavior in a Senate Public Health Committee hearing . The hearing was a heated one over Senate Bill 161, sponsored by Sen. Verdell Jackson, R-Kalispell, to declare federal health care reforms "null and void" in Montana. (Clink here to watch the hearing).

At several points throughout the hearing proponents of the measure cheered and applauded, which is generally not allowed in committee hearings. Gillan and fellow Democrat Sen. Kendall Van Dyk took issue with the applause and Van Dyk eventually objected, saying the hearing was not a “political rally.”

However, the committee’s chairman, freshman Sen. Jason Priest, R-Red Lodge, allowed the applause, saying he didn’t want to infringe on anyone’s First Amendment rights.

Gillan didn’t specifically criticize Priest on Monday, but it was clear to anyone watching what she meant.

“We all have to be concerned about the decorum of the Senate and in hearings,” Gillan said. “We have a lot of contentious hearings coming, and I just ask that members of the Senate who have been here a longer time join me in feeling we have a responsibility to help our more junior members, and when they are in difficult situations…all of us need to help people.”

Sen. President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, emphasized Gillan’s point. Peterson, along with Republican House Speaker Mike Milburn, have made decorum one of their top priorities this session.

“The decorum of the Senate applies to us senators, but in committee meetings it applies to everybody, including the public,” Peterson said. “For those of you who chair these committee hearings it’s important that you maintain civility and proper decorum in your committee hearings. If things start to step out of order it’s up to us, in the committee meetings, to support each other to maintain civility.”


Decorum was dealt another blow on Friday when Rep. Carolyn Pease-Lopez, of Billings, told Rep. Derek Skees, one of a handful of Republicans who sat in on a House Democrats’ caucus meeting, that "I felt so much hatred from your caucus."

"I feel like if it was up to you we would all be dead," Pease-Lopez said. "We are going to keep having babies and live and thrive no matter how much you try to oppress us."

Pease-Lopez was upset over a Republican amendment to a bill to move Montana to an all mail-in balloting system. The amendment  stripped special provisions aimed at outreach on reservations where Indian leaders say many residents don’t have mailing addresses.

Republican Majority Leader Tom McGillvray issued a strong rebuke.

"With the increased attention on civility in politics, we are disappointed and disheartened by the shameful comments from Rep. Pease-Lopez and the ensuing applause from the Democrat caucus," McGillvray wrote in an e-mail to reporters. "To claim that the GOP caucus, which includes several Native Americans, would want an entire people killed is entirely untrue and deeply offensive."

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