HELENA – The Montana House of Representatives turned back the clock 100 years Tuesday as members debated the raging issues of the era.
During the re-enactment, many men wore old suits and ties from the past, while some also sported derby hats and glued-on moustaches. Many chewed on cigars.
Not to be outdone, some women in the Legislature wore turn-of-the-century, high-collared dresses. Some also wore wide-brimmed hats.
At least one man and one woman in the Legislature wore wigs.
In mock discussions and debates, they argued such issues before the 1913 Legislature as the “Workingmen’s Compensation Act” and “The Civil Sunday Rest Bill,” which sought to give business owners and employees a mandatory day off each week.
Another measure sought to regulate “the sale of intoxicating liquor and to prohibit the sale of intoxicating liquor on Election Day.” Lawmakers also attempted to define – and set the penalty for – the crime of seduction.
Other bills included setting a minimum wage for women, regulations of dance halls at summer resorts and whether to petition Congress to permit the use of automobiles in Yellowstone National Park.
They debated whether to put on the ballot a proposal to appropriate $50,000 for an executive mansion for the governor “and for the equipment and furnishing of the same.”
There was a prepared script for the legislators to read from, but that was just the starting point. Some lawmakers ad-libbed and hammed it up. Some adopted Southern accents for the occasion.
The lawmakers in 1913 approved a general fund budget of $1.9 million for fiscal 1913 and $1.6 million for the following year. Today, Gov. Steve Bullock is asking the Legislature to appropriate general fund budgets of $2.2 billion in fiscal 2014 and $2.1 billion in 2015.
The House re-enacted the dedication of the Charles M. Russell painting, “Lewis and Clark Meeting the Indians at Ross’ Hole,” which takes up most of the wall behind the speaker’s podium in the House. A man portraying Russell thanked the people of Montana and his Native friends for letting him paint the mural.
House Speaker Mark Blasdel, R-Somers, said Lindsey Grovom, the chief clerk of the House, approached him with the idea before the session. She and her staff did all the work to put the event together.
Blasdel said it was a good time to do the re-enactment because the House, which returned from a brief mid-session recess, didn’t have many bills to debate yet in the second half of the session.
“Quite frankly, I think it brings us back all home to what we’re doing here sitting in these chairs today and the honor,” Blasdel said.
The House does a lot of hard work and is still focused on it, the speaker said, but every so often, it’s good to remember the history of the Legislature and honor of serving in the body.
Senators didn’t do their own reenactment, but many came to watch.