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Updates from the Montana Legislature. And is a special session in the offing?

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In nine days, the Montana Legislature will be half over. There are hundreds of bills still being drafted while others are being heard in House and Senate committees. Some have made it to the floors of those respective chambers. Some have even landed on the governor’s desk. Here are just a few of the bills that caught my eye.

Boneheaded bills making the rounds

There are two climate change denial bills that have been heard in committee but not voted on, yet. You’d think they’d be coming from a legislator in coal or oil country but no, they’re from Republican Rep. Joe Read out of Ronan. They’re HB 415  and HB 418. The first would “prohibit the state from implementing any federal greenhouse gas regulations” and the second would “clarify state’s position on global warming and greenhouse gases” (in other words, deny, deny, deny). 

A bill targeting small, clean energy projects was introduced by Alan Redfield (R-Livingston). HB 144 would get rid of tax credits for home energy conservation investments and a bunch of other worthy tax credits like daycare facilities and historic preservation. Tax credits involving capital gains, however, wouldn’t be touched.  

Here’s some good news on a bad bill. HB 302 defines a zygote as a person and would not allow an abortion for any reason, ever. It was sponsored by Republican Rep. Greg DeVries of Jefferson City and although it passed the House 56-43 and is headed to the Senate, where it will probably pass, it’s a Constitutional Amendment and needs two-thirds of the entire legislature to make it a law. It just doesn’t have the votes. So it’s one less bill Gov. Bullock won’t have to veto.

That’s about the only good news I have to offer

Missoula Democratic Rep. Andrea Olsen’s HR 2, a resolution asking Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment stating that corporations aren’t people and money is not free speech, bit the dust. After pressure from the Montana Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, Republicans caved with the exception of seven Rs and it went down 51-49.

Helena Democratic Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell’s HB 345 was tabled in the House Business and Labor Committee. It would have moved Montana low-wage workers toward a living wage.

There are still plenty good bills and bad bills in the hopper. For energy and environmental legislation, I tend to go to Montana Environmental Information Center, Montana Conservation Voters and Northern Plains Resource Council websites. For social justice, there’s Montana Human Rights Network. Other progressive bills can be found at Montana Progressive Democrats Facebook page (it’s a closed group but they’re pretty progressive about letting folks join in). A newly formed organization, Southwest Montana Legislative Coordinated Committee, is also tracking bills on Facebook, here. 

Then there’s the elephant in the room 

Medicaid Expansion has two competing bills: HB 425, introduced by Rep. Mary Caferro (D-Helena) which would make Medicaid Expansion permanent, and a bill to be introduced by Rep. Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls) which is still in draft form, I believe. Early indications are that Buttrey’s bill would have work requirements, asset inventory, increased premiums and perhaps even drug testing. Estimates indicate that about a quarter of those currently eligible for Medicaid Expansion would be kicked off the rolls. There’s still time to contact your legislators on this and many ways to do so. Here’s one: Call 406-444-4800 to leave a message for up to 5 legislators or all members of a committee.

As to the special session  

It could happen. A frustrated lawmaker I met at the Capitol was talking about the pet projects Republican legislators are pushing through, like SB 28, by oil and gas guy Tom Richmond (R-Billings). It’s tax breaks for oil and gas producers. Then there’s HB 403, a tax exemption for coal mines being offered by Rep. Barry Usher (R-Billings). But these same Republicans are loathe to raise taxes in any form. They even tabled a bill that would close some loopholes on corporate income taxes: SB 141, introduced by Sen. Dick Barrett (D-Missoula).

So, how do you pay for services and balance the budget when Republicans give tax breaks to their buddies but refuse to increase revenue? You don’t. Which could mean more cuts to environmental programs, health and human services, education, infrastructure … or maybe even lead to a special session. It happened in 2017 (although the big fire season that summer added to the special session’s budget headaches).

It’s starting to get contentious up there in the Capitol City. Again, keep those calls, emails and texts coming. The good folks need all the support they can get and the others need to know we’re watching.               

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

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  • I believe Medicaid expansion will happen as the GOP has no choice being pressured by the big hospitals and small local community ones. It won’t be permanent maybe 5 years and it will be very odorous no doubt. Bullock will have to sign it as what other choice does he have. What really worries me is that all the boneheaded bills you pointed out will reappear in the 2021 session and will there be a democrat governor sitting in that veto seat or a rubber stamp right wing republican. Unless the democrats get real serious about winning one house of the legislature in 2020 Montana will be the next person hood state and the tax payers spending big dollars supporting a terrible bill.

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