2100 miles away, the halls of Washington are not as busy as they usually are this time of year. For nearly a month, our federal government has been shut down. Even though 420,000 of the 800,000 federal workers are still working, they are not receiving a paycheck, there’s no resolution in sight, and Congress is taking a vacation.
However, in the Capital City of Helena, it’s a little more lively, and the parking situation makes one say, “it must be that time of year again.” Yes, The 66th Montana Legislature is in full swing. State Representatives and Senators have reported in from all across our great state to the People’s House to do the People’s work.
The Governor and his advisors, 150 legislators, and their staffs, and along with them; lobbyists, organizations, observers, students, security, informational witnesses, proponents and opponents, all will pack the capitol building for the next few months to decide the direction of our state for the next two years.
They will tackle issues ranging from Medicaid Expansion and Pre-Kindergarten education, Infrastructure, and Jobs, Agriculture growth and Broadband for Rural Montana, to revenue and balancing our state’s budget. Which is the only constitutional requirement of our legislature, to balance our state’s checkbook.
This will be the first legislature to tackle the budget since the special session in 2017 when our state’s coffers almost ran dry due to the most expensive fire season in our state’s history.
Speaking of fire season, Montana’s bravest, our firefighters have fought hard for several sessions to receive presumptive illness coverage through their insurance to no avail. Thankfully this year, Leader Casey Schreiner is taking up the cause on behalf of our firefighters, smokejumpers, and first responders.
I’ve been following the legislature, and have seen some great bipartisan cooperation happening, and I encourage this to continue. The challenges we face are larger than one party.
There are a lot of good bills being introduced this year; helping missing, endangered, and murdered Native Americans. Ending the statute of limitations in sexual assault cases, helping veterans transition from active duty to civilian life, bills to protect our privacy and defend our public lands, while some will encourage workforce retention and attraction to Montana.
However, there are some not-so-great, bigger government proposals; one to transfer public lands to the state government, which we couldn’t afford and we would be forced to sell the land to private buyers. And another proposal to give back $8 Million dollars to the federal government. Proposals that are irresponsible with our taxpayer dollars and a clear abuse of power.
There are 90 business days to balance the books, with so much to account for and so much expected; the legislature has zero time for games.
I’ve traveled our great state for the last decade, and I’ve worked with Montanans of all walks of life and stripe; the one thing I hear constantly is the hope that both sides can put down the campaign tactics and get to work.
Montana is watching and the clock is ticking.