The House: Reasonable Debate and Unreasonable Men

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If you want to understand the potential and the failure of the Montana Legislature, there’s no more telling moment than the session this afternoon. This evening, I watched the debate over Art Wittich’s HB 147, which would adopt the Nurse Licensure Compact which would allow a nurse who  possesses a current nursing license in a state that is a member of the NLC to practice in Montana without obtaining an additional license. I don’t know enough about the issue to have an opinion on whether the bill should pass, but the debate over it was a reminder that the Legislature can be a functioning, and even respectful, body. The bill passed second read on a 54-46 vote after a debate that saw speakers on both sides of the aisle arguing for and against its passage.

That impressive discussion was followed by an unfortunate reminder that some members of the House simply can’t help but make the Legislature a contentious and hostile environment. Based on unsubstantiated rumors, Representatives Art Wittich and Ron Ehli issued subpoenas for DPHHS employees to testify before their committees without even first notifying DPHHS officials first.

The exchange between Helena’s Representative Chuck Hunter and Representative Wittich demonstrates the unnecessarily combative and counter-productive nature of the decision to issue subpoenas, which will only make gathering information from state agencies more difficult.

For every brief glimmer of hope that the Republicans in the Legislature might be willing to offer reasoned debate and adult governance, why does there need to be a corresponding move by people like Representative Wittich, who seem more interesting in having a public platform from which to express their seemingly unbridled hostility and contempt for others? Perhaps Montana can consider a Legislative Compact which will allow some other state to let Representative Wittich to practice there.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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