House District 35 Rep. Joel Krautter, R-Sidney, recently filed for reelection, aiming to extend his first term into a second. Krautter will build on what many could deem a successful first run in the Montana Legislature.
“I’m excited to run for reelection and just build on the successes that we achieved during my first term,” Krautter said.
Some of those successes include the oil and gas revenues coming back to Sidney and Fairview, with the passing of House Bill 656 in the last legislative session. Krautter believes those revenues will begin coming back to the county this year.
Krautter was also successful in passing two agriculture-oriented bills, one reduces fees and regulations on farmers or ranchers hauling hay/straw short distances on state roads. The other addresses commodity dealers.
“(It) gives more certainty to our farmers dealing with commodity dealers,” Krautter said. “I put into place a new compliance matrix that was more civil in nature, previously it was criminal or they could revoke the commodity dealer’s license if they weren’t complying. This ads a proper civil matrix and it protects farmers, ranchers with their commodities.”
Mental health was also a focus for Krautter in the last session, working to pass the mobile crisis unit pilot program with House Bill 660.
The Helena Independent Record quoted Krautter as saying, “We know that when there is nonexistent or inadequate crisis care, costs will go up because of hospital re-admissions, overuse of law enforcement and human tragedies. Our current approach to crisis care is built on a patchwork and delivers minimal care, allowing people to have multiple re-admissions, fall into our criminal justice system, or result in a death by suicide.”
The bill aims to provide mental health care when and where it’s needed through a grant program. The bill had bipartisan support and allows for individual grants of up to $125,000 out of a $500,000 pot appropriated from the state general fund. Local governments are required to match grants awarded dollar for dollar. Grants are available through the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Those were some of the big things, but also I was just glad to be a problem solver up in Helena,” Krautter said.
Looking ahead to the next legislative session, Krautter said issues addressed are highly dependent on who ends up in the governor’s seat, as the agenda is set there first and is then addressed on the legislative level.
“People kind of react to that,” he said. “They see where they can work, where they can’t, what’s possible. Because that governor wields a lot of power with a veto pen. So that sets the stage.”
There are issues Krautter has his eyes and ears open to, however.
“People do want to work on the childcare issue,” he said. “We’re exploring different approaches on that. I’m studying the issue and why there are the differences between Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming.”
Another area Krautter is supportive of it rural access to broadband.
“That’s still something that we need to make gains on,” he said. “My biggest thing personally is I want to be focused on more economic growth for the state of Montana.”
That includes promotion of drilling for the oil and gas industry.
Last session, Krautter also worked on a bill for more transparency on prescription drug costs, forcing drug companies to justify the costs of their products.
“That was a bill that we passed through the House with bipartisan support,” he said. “The drug companies kind of came in the Senate and killed it. We’re already talking about another shot at it in the next session.”
On the local level, issues like the closure of the Lewis and Clark Station coal-powered plant are at the forefront for Krautter, and he said he plans on listening to community leaders on the topic.
“It just seems like on the coal front, we are dealing with a lot of factors outside of the state of Montana that are impacting our coal industry,” Krautter said.
On Jan. 21 of this year, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon announced Wyoming was joining Montana in asking the U.S. Supreme Court for a hearing on a dispute with Washington state over the blocking of a key coal export terminal. The hearing will addressed the violation of the commerce clause. It’s an issue Krautter is watching.
“One state is using their power of the port to block coal, which has an impact on our state’s economy,” Krautter said.
The global “War on Coal” has become personal in Richland County.
“I think it really is being driven by this activist push out there,” Krautter said. “It’s put such a target on coal that people are worried to invest in it in any kind of a long-term way, because they don’t know what’s around the corner with this push to stop all coal production. That’s really having a chilling effect.”
Coal power isn’t the only issue Krautter is monitoring closely, as the drug epidemic still has a strong hold in Richland County.
“We’re just seeing a rapid increase with our jail population,” Krautter said. “We’ve gone to not having that many people in the detention center earlier this year to being at capacity now. It’s being driven by our drug issues.”
Krautter is focused on how to help local law enforcement, the judiciary system and helping those who suffer from addiction.
“It’s complex,” he said. “I don’t know that the punishment helps people that are addicted. There has to be penalties, but there has to be treatment to try and help people not fall back into addiction.”
Politics can be funny game, even at the state level. Krautter has been accused of “not being Republican enough,” but he has a voting record he stands behind.
“I’m proud of my voting record. I voted for a balanced budget in Helena. I was a champion of business recognized by the Chamber of Commerce. I am consistently pro-life, pro-Second Amendment. And I stand with our farmers and ranchers,” Krautter said. “Those are a lot of issues that are important to Republicans. Fiscal responsibility is very important to Republicans I’ve talked to.”
One vote Krautter knew people questioned was his vote to support Medicaid Reform and Integrity Act, which reauthorized Medicaid.
“What I would say to those people is I heard from our local hospital on that. The board at the hospital passed a resolution asking me to support that,” he said. “They’re our biggest employer. A good local hospital is critical to our area.”
There were also factors that were improved in the bill, like work requirements, a six year sunset on the program, and residency requirements.
With a voting record most conservatives could be proud of, Krautter said he’s here for the future of his home state.
“What draws me to state politics is I really love Montana and I care about what happens in this state,” Krautter said. “I have a chance to have a seat at the table for all the decisions that affect us both locally and across the state. I care about the direction Montana is going.”