Saturday, January 31, 2009

Difficult Decisions in the 61st Montana Legislature

The Montana Legislature has just completed its 24th legislative day on Saturday, January 31. The session has been very busy thus far: more than 700 bills have been introduced to date, and House and Senate committees have heard testimony on any number of issues. The work can be very difficult, especially in a time of state and national economic challenge such as this, but be assured that legislators are as aware as each of you that now is a time for restraint. I’m most sensitive that our state and its services must live within its means just as every Montana household does.

Montana is one of just a handful of states—six or seven—that is not in a terrible deficit situation. Some states, like California, are billions of dollars in debt. Montana isn’t. Our Montana Constitution requires that we pass a balanced budget every two years for the upcoming biennium. That keeps us spending only what we can afford. Another great advantage Montana will have through this recession is that we produce food and energy, commodities which the market demands and which will keep us in much better shape than some other states or regions.

My day begins at 5:30 a.m., and I’m at the capitol by 6:30. At 7 a.m. every day there’s a leadership meeting, and morning committees, on which almost every legislator serves, start at 8 and go til noon. I serve on the House Taxation committee, and it’s been agonizing for my committee and others to decide what should be funded, and what we cannot afford, for Montanans this year. Should we give tax breaks for hearing aids? A tax credit for the purchase of long-term health insurance? Or for volunteer firefighters/EMTs? Or a tax exemption for military pensions? Or military paychecks? A tax credit for film companies who shoot productions in Montana? An Earned Income Tax Credit for our lowest-income workers? The House Taxation committee heard all these proposals and more in just one week. Other committees are deciding between more money for kids in Head Start programs, or money for the developmentally disabled; any number of critically-needed and much-used programs.

The House of Representatives and the Senate each convene at 1 p.m. Bills that have passed committee come to the floor of their respective chamber to be heard by the entire body. Bills that pass out of the House or Senate are referred to the other chamber for consideration. At 3 p.m. every day, afternoon committees meet til around 5 or 6 p.m. I serve as Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources committee, which has heard proposals for state lands purchases, recycling programs, timber sales, forest fire suppression, and more. We will consider mining law, water law, gravel pits, and oil and gas leases soon, some of those bills I’m sponsoring. I also serve on the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks committee, which passed a stream access bill and last week heard a proposal to return authority for bison management around Yellowstone National Park to our own Department of FWP-—a controversial issue.

The evenings are busy, too, with many citizen groups or interest groups hosting events. Most legislators attend, to talk with constituents or representatives. My day ends around 10 or 11 p.m. Then I sleep fast, get up and do it all over again!

The work is fast-paced, intense, and fascinating. I’m constantly aware that these decisions aren’t lofty, theoretical discussions, but proposals for state law by which each of us will live. It’s about deciding what we can do for most Montanans, and what’s fair, and what’s most effective. I’m truly honored to serve, and be assured I and all of us are doing our best to make sure Montana weathers this economic storm and comes out for the better.

On a lighter note: best schwag of the week were the boxing pens! Pens with punch buttons in the back that activate the left or right punching arm. Very popular on the floor of the House, but then, Representatives are easily amused. Deb Kottel pictured with her boxing pen.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Shoes of the Day

From Wednesday, January 28, 2009, teal and dark turquoise suede shoes, wood stacked heel, bows on the toes. They make me happy.

Today's brown plaid with a gold thread running through, on a light wood wedge heel. They make me happy, too.

I'm a bit of an Imelda, but in a good way.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Computer Security Legislation

On January 8, before the House State Administration committee, I presented House Bill 155. The bill is an anti-identity theft and security bill. It requires state agencies to develop policies for the protection of social security numbers and personal information.

The bill comes from the Economic Affairs Interim Committee two years ago as part of their identity theft prevention study.

In Montana law, there is a ‘duty to protect’, and that includes “protecting individual privacy and the privacy of information contained within information technology systems.” (MCA 2-17-505(1))

This bill extends private sector requirements to state government.

To put the requirement of security and notification in perspective, remember the computer security breach at D A Davidson about a year ago, when customer information was stolen from a computer database by a hacker. The personal information of tens of thousands of clients was stolen, and the company and its customers worried that the social security numbers and personal information could be used in identity theft.

Now, as bad as it was that a private computer system was accessed and the information stolen, the company realized that there had been a security breach and notified all of its clients so that they could take action to protect themselves if someone did try to use their personal information fraudulently.

House Bill 155 requires state government to develop processes to secure personal information and to notify people if ever that information is compromised or stolen.

Just think of how much personal information is held in any of these entities, and it’s easy to realize that it’s imperative to protect that information.

The notification requirement in the event of a security breach says that people must be notified in a timely fashion and that a third party working on behalf of a state entity must notify the state agency and the people affected.

House Bill 155 is a good government bill, a pro-privacy, anti-identity theft bill.

The Montana Department of Administration worked diligently on this legislation, and I was most proud to sponsor it. The bill passed the House of Representatives unanimously on January 19 (second reading) 97-0 and January 20 (third reading) 98-0.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Formality and idiosyncracies

On the House floor, business is conducted in quite a formal way. Motions are stated in the method of Mason's Legislative Procedure, but some people have adaptations to the established formula.

Speaker Bob Bergren, on third reading of bills, says, "House Bill 63, having been read through three several times, the question is: Shall the bill pass?"

I don't think he knows he says "three several times", but I think it's funny.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Legislative Day 16, Friday, January 23, 2009

It's been a busy three weeks at the Montana Legislature. Some highlights:

On January 8, early in the session (Day 4!) I presented House Bill 155 to the House State Administration committee. The bill is a pro-privacy, anti-identity theft measure that requires state agencies to secure your personal information held in information technology systems (computers and servers). The bill passed second reading on the House floor this past Monday, Jan 19, and third reading the next day, which sends the bill on to the Senate for consideration! I'm really proud of this bill, and of the our state agency (the Department of Administration) for bringing it. I'm fortunate to have been asked to sponsor it.

On Tuesday, I presented a bill to the House Local Government committee on zoning violations, seeking civil remedy (instead of criminal charges) for zoning violations. It's a bill supported by the Montana Association of Counties, and in the hearing, had no opponents. I've been told that the committee will consider passing it out to the floor next week.

Now, there are some slices of life at the capitol, too:

It's tradition in this grand House chamber to have a sheepskin on one's chair. This year I'm sporting a white, black-tipped sheepskin. (Last year, I chose a black sheep. No comments from the Peanut Gallery, please.)

At an Inauguration Day party Tuesday evening, a fellow representative, Cheryl Steenson, complimented my most excellent fashion :) and said she'd like a little JP doll with extra outfits. I thanked her for thinking I merit my own action figure!

And last week, after the Chief of Law Enforcement and others at the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks saw a picture of me in a previous post wearing my most excellent pink Montana Game Wardens hat, the chief himself gave me a Montana Game Wardens pin. Five-point star in a circle, small Montana state seal in the center. NICE!

Interest groups come to the capitol with small gifts for legislators. My favorite was from the Montana Association of Churches the first week: a box of macaroni and cheese on every desk! Rep. Art Noonan was the recipient of a mac-and-cheese Jenga-type tower on his desk.

I'm glad to have a wonderful seatmate, Carolyn Pease-Lopez from Billings. She's the recipient of all my wisdom and humor, and I think I'm pretty funny. Tonight, she said I should include a message to you: Thanks, says Carolyn, to the voters of HD63 for sending me to Helena! She appreciates it very much! (I think she likes me most for the entertainment value. I'm also handy for legislative advice.)

My days are long, but the work is fantastic. I always say that the work of the legislature is wonderful, but the politics can be ugly. It's the work I love, and I work hard at it. I start each morning getting to the capitol around 6:30 for the first meeting at 7 a.m. Morning committees convene at 8 and go until noon. House floor action is at 1 p.m., then afternoon committees convene at 3 p.m. and go til 6 or 7, and then many of us go to evening gatherings of people who've come to the capital city to meet their legislators and testify on bills. It's a whirlwind, it's exhausting, but it's also the most worthwhile work; trying to improve our neighbors' and citizens' lives, and through them, our state. I am truly honored to serve.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day, January 20

Are you inspired, hopeful, ready to work? I watched the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama today on a TV in the lobby of the House of Representatives, and I've rarely been more hopeful of our potential as a nation and as a government. Maybe it was that we've come down a steep slope to this point, with fiscal troubles, international diplomacy to fix, a domestic future to work on, but today, I'm steadied, encouraged, and absolutely determined to do all I can to improve our lot.

From President Obama's speech (boy, it's nice to say that--President Obama), a number of points settled deep:

- That power doesn't give us permission to do what we want; instead, we need to work to be respected.

- It's not whether government is too big or too small, but whether it works.

- That our next generation shouldn't have to lower its sights.

- Our country has done great things when we've matched our imagination to our determination. (Didn't all of us think of Kennedy promising we'd go to the moon in a decade?)

- That we've tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and today, a man whose father would not have been served at a lunch counter takes the oath of office of the highest office in the land.

- That America will extend a hand if others will unclench their fists.

All of this spoke to us on a level we've not heard for a while, and I do believe that we can be better if we're not selfish. President Obama hearkened back to what the Greatest Generation accomplished, with little or no fanfare or glory for oneself. We need that again. I'll fight for it, alongside you. Let's do it.

And Aretha, NICE HAT!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Stream access from county bridges

I'm co-sponsoring House Bill 190, an act to clarify public access to rivers and streams from county bridges.
Last session, I carried Senate Bill 78 in the House to clarify public access from county bridges, but SB78 died in a contentious legislature.

There are many findings for public access to waters in Montana law and case law. Montana’s Stream Access Law, passed in 1985, states that all Montanans have the right to use their rivers and streams for recreation. Our Montana Constitution in Article 9, Sect. 3 (3) provides for the use of the waters of the state for its people and to hunt and fish. It also describes what I term our “harvest heritage”—to harvest wild fish and game (Art. 9, Sect. 7). Attorney General Mazurek’s opinion (which carries the weight of law) found that the intersection of two public rights-of-way (county roads and waterways) is a public intersection, and a bridge crossing a waterway is a public access point, but as you know, some landowners have challenged that finding in court. Last year, the Tucker case on the Madison River (and other cases of late) have found for public access, and have upheld Mazurek’s opinion.

House Bill 190 attempts to codify our Attorney General’s opinion and also references court actions that have challenged and failed to overturn that opinion.

House Bill 190 has my full support. You can be sure that I’m working the Representatives and Senators of this 61st Legislature to support HB190. I will always fight for our right to access our rivers and streams. Trout, beware!

Kendall van Dyk, a representative from Billings, will present the bill to the House Fish, Wildlife, and Parks committee on Tuesday. I serve on the House FWP committee, and will be proud to hear the bill's proponents, opponents, and informational witnesses. I and many others are doing our best to ensure the passage—finally—of a stream access bill. For me, it’s a continuation and refinement of last session’s attempt, and the final result, I hope, of many years of actions, findings, and reaffirmations of public access to our rivers and streams.

Montana's heritage of sporting and access to our state and federal lands has much to do with the character of this place and of our people. House Bill 190 helps to continue our Montana sporting tradition.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Montana Legislature, Day 5

In today's Bozeman Daily Chronicle, an article on a bill I presented yesterday; and a photo of me during the taking of the oath of office on Monday. Happy Fifth Legislative Day, everyone.

Pomnichowski seeks to tighten state’s watch on Social Security numbers
Chronicle Staff Writer

HELENA — A bill put forward Thursday at the House State Administration committee would require state agencies to be on par with the private sector when it comes to protecting personal information. House Bill 155 sponsored by Rep. JP Pomnichowski D-Bozeman, seeks to reduce the number of state agencies collecting Social Security numbers, make those agencies more protective of the numbers they have and set up a way to let Montanans know if there has been a security breach.
Such protections are vital, Pomnichowski said, given that state government processes everything from tax returns to driver’s licenses, birth certificates to marriage licenses.
The state Department of Administration requested the bill. A fiscal note prepared for the bill says it would not cost any money because state agencies already have policies in place for protecting personal information — although Pomnichowski said those policies can be applied “as strictly or loosely as they can be.”
She emphasized that the bill would put the state under the same guidelines it spells out for the private sector. She cited the security breach at investment firm D.A. Davidson as an example of how hackers can get access to private information and how affected people can be properly notified.
“As bad as it was that a private computer system was accessed and the information stolen, the company realized that there had been a security breach and notified all of its clients so that they could take action to protect themselves if someone did try to use their personal information fraudulently,” she said.
The bill has the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union and the state’s chief information officer, Dick Clark. Also supporting the bill at the hearing was the Montana Newspaper Association. However, John Barrows, MNA’s executive director, said his group also had concerns with how the law would be implemented. If overextended, Barrows told the committee, the right to privacy could interfere with the public’s right to know. Barrows painted a scenario in which information is withheld or delayed under the guise of protecting Social Security numbers. “We understand the right to privacy. We have concerns that protecting the right to privacy does not override the right to know,” he said.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Montana Legislature, Day 3

On Monday, January 5, I and my fellow Representatives and Senators were sworn in to office at high noon. Before that, at ten a.m. in the beautiful Capitol rotunda, Governor Schweitzer, Lieutenant Governor Bohlinger,
and our statewide officers took their oaths of office. I'm so honored to serve my second term in the House, and the action is already full-speed ahead; I will present two of my bills before House committees tomorrow!

House Bill 155 is a bill requiring state government to develop secure processes for keeping personal information, and processes by which to deter computer security breaches--and to notify people if a security breach happens.

House Bill 63 is a bill that gives the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks authority to revoke fur dealers' licenses for illegal activity. Currently, even if someone is dealing in poached pelts or is tagging pelts unlawfully, FWP cannot revoke the license, and in fact, has to renew the license!

I serve on the House Taxation committee, and in this year of property reappraisal for residential, forest, and agricultural land, my service on House Tax will be paramount. I serve on the House Fish, Wildlife, and Parks committee also, the committee to whom I'll present HB63 tomorrow.

I'm honored to serve as Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources committee, the body which will hear bills this session on energy, water, oil and gas, state lands, forests--just about everything that makes Montana wonderful.

Do contact me with questions, concerns, points of interest, anything at all. I'll send updates on a regular basis from the capitol!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Inauguration Eve, January 4, 2009

Tomorrow at noon, I and my fellow representatives will be sworn in to office in the chamber of the House of Representatives at the Montana Capitol. I'm deeply honored to serve my second term, and I'll update the blog regularly to keep you informed of all the happenings at the legislative session.

I'm carrying quite a few bills this term, ranging from laws on gravel pits and state lands leases to changes to tax increment financing (TIF) districts for technological businesses, to civil (versus criminal) zoning penalties. I'll present my first bill of the session this Thursday; House Bill 63, to grant authority to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to revoke fur dealers' licenses for illegal activity.

The first few days of the session include some orientation and updates for legislators. After we're sworn in tomorrow, the House will adjourn for the day. On Tuesday, we'll have 'law school for legislators', which educates/updates senators and representatives on laws and statutes, Attorney General opinions, Supreme Court decisions, etc. There'll also be an overview on the state budget, and how program, agency, and statutory appropriations compare against projected state revenues.

Montana is one of just a few states that passes a balanced budget, which will hold us in good stead through this global economic downturn. (Some states, like California, are faced with billions of dollars in deficit.) Prudence will be the rule of this legislative session, and of all Montanans' actions for the foreseeable future. I'll do my level best, as always, to balance our state's and citizens' needs with our state resources, monetary and otherwise.

A new addition to my Helena experience is a smart car! In today's frosty Helena (it's about 8 degrees F), here's the smart car in front of the Capitol building, and close up. The smart gets 40-45 mpg and puts a small footprint on the earth: it's 5x8'. It cost me less than $10 to fill it up for the drive to Helena yesterday, and it's up-to-date for fewer emissions than many other cars.

Come to Helena if you can to observe the session! The legislature convenes January through April. You can watch legislative committee meetings and Senate and House floor action, too. TVMT broadcasts committee meetings and floor debate. In Bozeman, it's on channel 63 on Bresnan basic cable. You can access streaming video and audio from the state website, too, at or And of course, I'm pleased to provide whatever information I can; I'll give you my perspective on jpformontana often!

Happy New Year, everyone, and many thanks for the honor of representing all of you in Bozeman, Gallatin County, and the great State of Montana. Now, onward!