By Matt B. Walen
Hi-Line legislators are gearing up for a special session of historical proportions Tuesday.
The states lawmakers will return to Helena to labor over a proposal that could help settle longstanding water, tax and land disputes on the Crow Indian Reservation.
But instead of meeting at the Capitol, the legislators will hold hearings at Carroll College while the Capitol Building is being renovated.
Rep. Antoinette Toni Hagener, D-Havre, said the session will be restricted to just the Crow Tribe water issue because of the new location for hearings.
This session is kind of historic in one respect because of where it will be held, she said.
The Legislature is being asked to approve a three-pronged, $15 million settlement involving water rights on the reservation, a 21-year-old lawsuit over Montanas coal severance tax, and ownership of reservation land.
Legislative approval is just one step in a process that will last at least through next year, when Congress and tribal members could be asked to ratify the water-rights agreement.
Hagener, a member of the water rights commission, has been following the Crow Tribes request for some time and said she hopes the issue will be resolved during the special session.
Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, agreed with Hagener that the extra session will be of a historical footnote because of the different location during hearings.
The session will be trying because there wont be the staff, offices or normal electronic voting procedures since the session will be away from the Capitol.
I agree that we should keep (the special session) just to the water compact issue, Jergeson said. Theres just not the facilities to handle other issues like the regular session.
Rep. Ray Peck, D-Havre, said the hearings on the water compact issue will be lengthy because there is some resistance across the state concerning paying the tribe $15 million over the next 10 years.
If there is a major amendment to the compact issue, the planned two-day session could spill over into Thursday, Peck said.
Freshman Sen. Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, said Gov. Marc Racicots note indicated he wanted the lawmakers to concentrate on the water compact issue because of the unusual circumstances of where the session will be held.
There was some speculation that the lawmakers might be asked to address the added fees to speeding tickets. Legislators approved the $20 daytime speeding tickets. But there is an added $20 to the basic speeding ticket for fees.
I would be shocked if the governor brings something out in the special session, Tester said. I hope we take care of the (water compact) issue one way or the other.