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Montana Conservation Interests 'Push Back' This Session

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Because of COVID-19, Montanans can testify on bills virtually this legislative session. (Erik Madsen/Flickr)
Because of COVID-19, Montanans can testify on bills virtually this legislative session. (Erik Madsen/Flickr)
 By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT - Producer, Contact
January 13, 2021

HELENA, Mont. - With a new slate of legislators and a new governor in Helena, conservation groups want to ensure that protecting public lands is a top priority.

The group Montana Conservation Voters has launched the "Montana Pushback" campaign to keep people informed whenever environmental issues are on the docket in the Capitol. Whitney Tawney, the group's executive director, said the pandemic is changing the way Montanans and groups engage on legislative issues, adding that conservation isn't a controversial issue in the Treasure State.

"All of these elected leaders across the political spectrum pledged to support and defend Montana's outdoors," she said, "which means we're going to make sure that they live up to their promises."

Because of COVID-19, people are able to participate in this session remotely via video and can testify at hearings through Zoom. However, lawmakers made clear in their rules that they don't have to take virtual testimony if there are technical difficulties. Tawney said she is concerned the pandemic could lead to less public scrutiny of legislation this year.

The 2020 election also ushered in Gov. Greg Gianforte. Tawney said conservation groups are happy with his budget proposal, in terms of funding state agencies and outdoor programs. However, she said Gianforte's proposal disregards language in the marijuana-legalization initiative passed in November that promises tax revenue to conservation programs.

"Unfortunately, in Greg Gianforte's budget recommendation, he reallocated that funding," she said, "and so what we're hoping to do is work with the Legislature to restore that funding, from this point forward."

Tawney said she thinks state lawmakers should do all they can to protect Montana's landscape.

"Our outdoor heritage is something that brings people to Montana," she said. "There's 98% of us that identify public lands and outdoor recreation as a reason to live in Montana, and we've got a huge, booming economy that's reliant on that as well."

The Montana legislative session lasts through April. The Montana Pushback campaign will be sharing updates from the session on its website.

Disclosure: Montana Conservation Voters & Education Fund contributes to our fund for reporting on Environment. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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