Fifty legislators request review of Water Compact — Sen Fielder to be at Sanders County Expo at Plains High School 10am-3pm this Saturday to discuss issues with public. by Senator Jennifer Fielder, R - Montana State Senate District 7
March 24, 2014

Agreeing each vote should be an informed vote, fifty Montana legislators recently requested independent review of the proposed CSKT (Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes) Water Compact.

You may recall the Compact failed to meet legislative approval last year. The legislature wanted to study the proposal during the off year in 2014, but the governor vetoed the bill in keeping with the tribe’s”take it or leave it” ultimatum.

Legislators have been asking for in depth professional expertise on this matter because this particular law is complicated, contentious, and if ratified it would last FOREVER. It will undoubtedly come before us again in 2015.

This year Representatives Nancy Ballance, R - Ravalli County and Keith Regier, R - Flathead County presented a legislative interim committee requesting independent studies of the Compact. One third of the entire legislature signed the request.

The tribe’s attorney testified in opposition to the studies, contending the Compact doesn’t need to be looked at any further. But many legislators feel we need unbiased information to make a responsible decision.
“When HB 629 (the proposed CSKT Compact) was introduced it had a fiscal note attached but no legal review,” Rep. Regier testified.”Legal Services Office of the legislative staff provides a legal review of bills that could ‘raise potential issues based on plain constitutional language conflicts and Federal Court and Montana Supreme Court case law.’ I was surprised that off reservation water rights and the development of a new water right regulatory agency (Unitary Management Ordinance)… did not trigger a legal review.”

Regier continued,”I was told by Legal Services that a legal review was not done because there is a lack of case law in these areas. With a lack of case law on these two issues that means the CSKT Compact is breaking new ground and setting precedent that can be far reaching. That makes it imperative that legislators have as much information possible before making a decision on this compact. Having a MEPA study, private property assessment, and an economic review will make each vote an informed vote.”

Many irrigators have testified against the current proposal because it would cut their historic water use in half, jeopardizing the ability to raise productive crops. Others believe having their water rights placed under authority of a tribal entity will violate their constitutional right to equal protection under U.S. & Montana law.

The fact that the Flathead reservation was opened to white settlement has resulted in a mixed land ownership pattern of private and tribal lands within the reservation boundary. The federal government has made promises to the tribe, homesteaders, and irrigators. In some cases the federal promises are contradictory to one another.

The legislature does not convene again until 2015, so there is time to study the laws, the facts, the proposal, and the probable impacts. I will continue in any way I can to seek out thorough and unbiased review of the compact.

It’s important to note there are Indian and non-Indian people who favor the compact as well as oppose it. Moving forward with caution and seeking independent analysis to get the facts on the table is the responsible thing to do.

It would be helpful if citizens and decision makers on both sides of the issue stay informed and engaged in thoughtful review and respectful dialogue. If we do that, we may be able to solve this.
“None of the legislators are saying there shouldn’t be a compact.” Regier concluded.”There are just too many unanswered questions for them to feel comfortable supporting the compact in its present form. Some legislators are comfortable in supporting the compact now. Help me and others attain that same confidence. Let’s do the studies that will answer the questions the compact raises.”

This Saturday I will be at the Sanders County Expo at Plains High School from 10am to 3pm to share detailed information on some of the top legislative issues including the CSKT Water Compact, the state’s federal land study, and nationwide efforts to transfer federally managed public lands to the states. Please stop by if you would like to discuss these or any other issues important to you. I can also be reached at

Family-Run Business Seminar at Chamber's Business Days at the Capitol

Montana State University College of Business management instructor Craig Ehlert will present a free seminar, “10 Ideas for Success for Family-Run Businesses,” on Monday, Jan. 7, from 1:30-3 p.m. at the Best Western Premier Helena Great Northern Hotel.

The seminar is part of the MSU College of Business’s State Farm Insurance Family Business Program On the Road series. It will be held in conjunction with the Montana Chamber of Commerce’s 13th annual Business Days at the Capitol, set Jan. 7-8 in Helena.

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Apparently no one told these guys this statute already HAS a damage cap.

Here are some undeniable facts about this statute, which has been on the books since 1987:

  • You can only get punitive damages in very, very narrow circumstances.
  • You can’t get pain and suffering damages under any circumstances.
  • You can’t get emotional distress damages under any circumstances.
  • You can’t get more than 4 years of lost wages and fringe benefits under any circumstances.
  • The jury can award you less than 4 years of lost wages.
  • The jury must deduct from your damages any amounts you actually made by promptly getting a new job.
  • The jury can find that you should have got a new job, even if you didn’t or couldn’t, and then they take that off your damages as well.
  • The jury can even award you less than 4 years of lost wages and also deduct the wages they think you would have earned at a new job they think you could have had if you tried hard enough.

These are all straight-up facts about the current, unamended statute. Now for a few opinions.

Every case is different. That’s why we have jury trials instead of legislative trials. Before 1987, a jury could award all the damages you could prove in one of these cases. The 1987 legislation permitted this type of lawsuit to continue but capped the damages at 4 years. As is usually the case with compromises, the 1987 compromise made both sides mad.

We have three separate branches of government and a system of checks and balances for a reason. The role of legislators is to legislate. It isn’t to elbow into the jury room and substitute their own one-size-fits-all judgment — formed ahead of time without knowing any of the specific facts of the particular case at issue, and probably before any of those facts have even happened yet — for the deliberations of the people who have actually heard the case-specific evidence and sworn to render a fair decision about it. 

Drug runners and terrorists using “protected” federal lands to sneak into U.S.A.. THE WESTERNER: The plunge toward border wilderness:

"“We need to learn from our previous mistakes of designating protected lands anywhere near the border,” he lectures."Those protected lands just become a conduit for transnational criminal organizations … every time and every place.”"

On 100th anniversary of suffrage in Montana, exhibit tells stories of Montanan women.

"While some push for quotas calling for equal representation, Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, isn’t one of them. She doesn’t see politics as a game of gender, but rather, a collection of representatives who are best suited for the job."

Here are a couple points I would like to make that were left out of the story:

You could force male/female ratios that match the voter demographic by requiring people to vote only for candidates of their own gender. But that would interfere with people’s right to choose the representation which they believe is best. It would be un-American and a clear violation of our Constitutional rights.

I find it extremely hypocritical that the man who recently introduced the ballot initiative to require an equal number of men and women in the Montana legislature is a man who ran against me in 2012 and tried to knock me, the only female in the race, out of contention so a male could win the seat.

Working hard on solving problems with federal land management

We had some informative hearings on SJ-15 Montana’s Study of Federal Land Management this week at the capitol. As Chair of the study, my goals are to reduce wildfire hazard, keep public access open, take better care of the environment, provide good jobs, and fund local services through responsible resource management.…posts