MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA (AP)
House Speaker Bob Bergren said Friday that he expects a few big policy initiatives could clear a legislative session that has seen many proposals die amid tight partisan margins and budget worries. The Havre Democrat, eyeing next week's legislative midpoint, pointed to a couple of big ideas as possibilities. Bergren said a proposed death penalty ban, that has cleared the Senate for the second time in two years, could get out of the House this year. That chamber killed it in 2007. "I hope the committee I put it in moves it so that the whole body can at least have the discussion," Bergren said. "I'm going to vote for it if I get the chance." Bergren said the death penalty is hardly ever used in Montana, and so is just a waste of money. He said it would be better just to put such murderers in prison for life with no chance for parole. Bergren also said he expects enough Democrats will join Republicans to push through some GOP efforts to spur energy development by, in part, making project appeals more difficult. He noted, however, that not everyone will be on board. "When they say 'no coal period,' we are probably not going to appease those folks," Bergren said. House Republican leaders have made the energy bills one of their top priorities this session. Many large policy initiatives have stalled so far. Bergren said part of the reason is a very tight budget with no room for pricey proposals. He also cited the 50-50 split in the House as a reason many have been prompted to not even bother proposing some ideas. "People are being very pragmatic, saying 'I have this idea, it costs a lot of money, so I should probably just save my breath," Bergren said. "We haven't had to do some big policy questions." This session has had far less overt, angry partisanship than in 2007. And Bergren said he is meeting almost daily with House Republican leaders. But one Bergren move this week rankled the feathers of the GOP, when the house speaker failed to schedule an anti-union "right to work" bill. Bergren said the same proposal already died in the GOP-controlled Senate and would just be a waste of time in the 50-50 House. "I don't think I need to burden the committee with a bill that doesn't stand chance," said Bergren. Bergren, who stood up Gov. Brian Schweitzer on a scheduled meeting in front of the press earlier this month, said he's working well with his fellow Democrat. "We'll differ at times, we have in the past," Bergren said. "But he's a gentleman about it."