Michael Siebert/UM Community News Service

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As Legislature winds down, a look at a fairly civil session


HELENA — After nearly five months of hearings, debates, floor action and votes, Montana’s 65th Legislative session is coming to a close. While lawmakers are constitutionally required only to draft and pass a two-year budget for the state’s numerous offices and programs—which they did last week—legislators from all walks of life address the concerns of their constituents, as well as their own ideas in the other bills they bring. (more…) Continue Reading →

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3 bills aim at state control of health-care practices


HELENA — With the future of health care on the federal level still unclear, Republican lawmakers in Helena are pushing legislation that could reshape how Montanans access and pay for medical services. Three bills—House Bill 266 and Senate Bills 100 and 362—are based on the premise that individual states should be able to determine what health-care practices are best suited for their residents, and that costs should be lowered. (more…) Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers debate beer, insurance, student loans


HELENA — The Montana Senate is considering a bill passed by the House 62-38 late last month that would provide partial forgiveness of student loans for farmers. Introduced by Rep. Zach Brown, D-Bozeman, House Bill 631 would repay up to half of a farmer’s student loans if he or she commits to farming or ranching for a minimum of five years. “Student loan debt is a big issue facing our economy in general,” Brown said. “It’s holding back young professionals.”

Brown said the issue is particularly relevant to the agriculture industry, which he described as “aging.” According to the latest statistics from the USDA’s Ag Census, which is done every five years, the average age of the American farmer in 2012 was 58. That’s five years older than the average age in 1992. Continue Reading →

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Making sense of Legislature’s surviving tax proposals


HELENA — When it comes to balancing the state budget, there are two schools of thought—raise taxes and generate revenue, or cut spending and save money. With the state facing a budget shortfall, that ideological difference has become all the more prominent throughout Montana’s 65th legislative session. Often, it defines party lines. (more…) Continue Reading →

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Legislature trying to find money for aides to disabled


HELENA — With so much talk of money during Montana’s 65th legislative session, it can be difficult to comprehend how all that money affects everyday Montanans. This session, one group has become the de facto human face of the budget—direct care workers. (more…) Continue Reading →

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Mail-in ballots, spearfishing and beer debated in Helena


HELENA —With the special congressional election quickly approaching, Montana lawmakers heard heated testimony on a bill last week that would allow counties to opt for mail-in ballots. Senate Bill 305, introduced by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, would apply only to the upcoming special election between Republican Greg Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist, who are vying for the U.S. House seat vacated by Ryan Zinke, now President Trump’s Interior secretary. (more…) Continue Reading →

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Proposed bills aim to help fight opioid epidemic


Liz Schwartz’s brother overdosed in their parents’ garage after sucking prescription opioids out of a used fentanyl patch. His mother found him on the floor and immediately called an ambulance. He made it to the hospital in time and survived. Within a year, Schwartz’s father overdosed the same way. He, too, survived. Continue Reading →

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Infrastructure, abortion, criminal-record bills debated


HELENA — As Republicans and Democrats grapple with how to fund statewide infrastructure projects at the Montana Legislature, one bill in the House aims to put that decision in the hands of local voters. House Bill 577, introduced by Rep. Dave Fern, D-Whitefish, would allow cities and towns to adopt an infrastructure tax on luxury goods and services at a maximum rate of 4 percent. However, the tax would have to be approved by local voters. (more…) Continue Reading →

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All eyes on budget during 2017 legislative session


Editor’s note: This story has been updated to included a correction. The Montana Legislature is responsible for accomplishing a great deal during the 90 days it meets every two years. But lawmakers are actually constitutionally required to do only one thing—create and pass a state budget. (more…) Continue Reading →

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Special ed in uphill fight to find funding in Legislature


HELENA — The main state budget bill at the Montana Legislature passed first reading last week with some surprises, including the restoration of  $11.5 million to higher education funding. But one area has consistently struggled to find funding throughout the first half of the 65th Montana legislative session—special education. Funded through a combination of federal dollars and state funds, special education has seen minimal increases in state funds, leaving local and federal dollars to pick up the slack, according to a report by the legislative school funding interim committee. (more…) Continue Reading →

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