Blasting silver bullets in Helena 

Getting a bill through the Legislature is rarely as simple as presenting it to a committee, having a hearing and watching it live or die.

In fact, state politicians have made a virtual art form out of crafting rules to keep seemingly doomed proposals from becoming extinct.

In the evenly divided House, political leaders agreed early on this session to allow each side to extract up to 12 bills mired in committee and place them on the floor for further debate.

These so-called “silver bullets” are reserved for pet bills of each party’s choosing that can be revived even if committees have already voted to table them.

As of Monday, Republicans had used three of their silver bullets to rescue bills from recalcitrant committees. The Democrats have thus far only used one.

Senate Aide Gwen Lankford says the Senate doesn’t have any silver bullet exemptions this session. But another creative option commonly used to override a committee’s do-not-pass vote is the “blast.”

In the House, a member can attempt to resurrect a stalled bill during floor sessions. If three-fifths of the body agree, the measure can be “blasted” out of committee.

In the Senate, bill blasts take only a simple majority, which makes the task considerably easier, at least for Democrats holding a 27-23 majority.

So far this session, says House Democratic Aide Neal Ullman, 13 blasts have been attempted in the House. Only one—a proposal by Rep. Ron Stoker, R-Darby, to require voters to declare their party affiliation in primary elections—has been successful.

Lawmakers this week face a transmittal deadline, meaning all general bills not deemed to be tax or appropriations measures must be passed to the other body or die.

Because deadlines for revenue bills come later, the practice of tacking fees or other monetary values onto non-revenue bills to keep them alive is also part of the legislative bag of tricks.

And, finally, there’s old-fashioned deal making, which greases more law than most of us would care to know.

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