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Legislative Update: Wednesday, April 26


Infrastructure-funding bill tweaked
By Cole Grant
The House Appropriations Committee voted Wednesday to revive and tighten up a bill that would borrow money to pay for some infrastructure projects, like improvements to parks and public schools. Senate Bill 367, carried by Sen. Eric Moore, R-Miles City, originally authorized for bonding up to $98 million, but that was whittled down to around $80 million. Among other things, the new amendments cut a little less than half of the funding for the quality-schools grant program. That would fund things like building repairs and fire system upgrades for public schools throughout the state. Rep. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, whose infrastructure bill failed earlier this month, supported the bill. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Tuesday, April 25


Legislature passes compromise bill on ‘Real ID’
By Freddy Monares
The Legislature passed a bill Tuesday that offers a compromise on the 2005 federal “Real ID Act,” which standardizes state identification cards. At the end of this year, a Montana driver’s license would not meet the federal standards to be used for air travel or access to federal facilities. Senate Bill 366 would give Montanans the option of paying a fee for a special license that complies with the federal guidelines. The bill was amended in a free conference committee to draw funds from a state special revenue account and borrow money for implementation. Some of the borrowing could be pushed back if the state receives an extension from the federal government to comply. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Monday, April 24


Senate rejects changes to political practices bill
By Freddy Monares
The Senate rejected amendments to a bill Monday that would require the now-independent commissioner of political practices to report to the state’s attorney general and issue warnings to candidates before fining them for not complying with campaign laws. Senate Bill 368 would increase the money candidates could raise, but when the House passed it last week, it also added the amendments the Senate rejected Monday. Sen. Tom Richmond, R-Billings,is the sponsor of the bill. Richmond especially opposed the amendment about the shift of supervision. “Which I think is a matter of policy that we didn’t choose to go down that path,” Richmond said. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Friday, April 21

Budget bill on the way to governor
By Cole Grant
It’s been a long, hard trek, but the $10.3 billion Montana state budget is now on its way to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s desk. Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, chairs the House Appropriations Committee and is sponsoring House Bill 2. She said the budget cuts as deeply as it could without impacting essential services like education, healthcare and corrections. “Now, some say we didn’t spend enough, others are saying we didn’t cut enough,” she said. Bullock said he thinks there have been constructive conversations with both Democrats and Republicans about how to make a budget that funds essential services, doesn’t spend more than it brings in, “and leaves me with a degree of flexibility so I’m not picking up the pieces and calling them back into session.”

Bullock now has 10 days to review the bill. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Thursday, April 20


House OKs Senate budget amendments
By Cole Grant
The Montana budget needs just one more vote to get to Gov. Steve Bullock’s desk. On Thursday, the Montana House of Representatives voted to agree with the Senate’s amendments to House Bill 2, or the state’s two-year budget. Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, said communication with the Senate was key. “We met with the Senate prior to them taking up any amendments,” she said. “Made sure they understood that we believe that budget was as complete as we could get it, and asked them to keep it within the bounds that we had set in filling the major holes, and that is exactly what they did.”

Minority Leader Jenny Eck, D-Helena, voted against the amendments. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Tuesday, April 18


Senate nixes House change to tax bill
Freddy Monares
The Senate on Tuesday rejected a House amendment to a bill that would provide a tax exemption for property owners whose land value is at least double the value of the house or other property on the land. The House passed Senate Bill 94 earlier this month, but amended it to include income caps for a taxpayer to quality for the exemption. Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, is the sponsor of the bill. He asked the Senate to reject the amendment because of the impact on the state’s general fund. “The House amendment raised the fiscal note 28 percent over the version that left this chamber,” Regier said. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Thursday, April 13


Ballot-collection bill debated
By Cole Grant
The Montana Legislature is taking a break this weekend after passing more than a dozen bills Thursday. Lawmakers tackled issues like giving loans to the owners of coal-fired power plants, raising production caps for small breweries, and asking voters if they want to limit who can collect ballots. In a debate on the bill about ballot collection in the House Wednesday, recorded by the Legislature, Rep. Forrest Mandeville, R-Columbus said whether or not people believe voter fraud is happening, “We should still be trying to do everything we can to make sure there is no question that our election process is absolutely sacred.”

Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula says Senate Bill 352 aims at voter suppression. “This bill is about creating barriers where none are needed, or none need to exist, because our system works as it is,” he said. “This bill hurts voters.”

Since the referendum passed the House and Senate, it will now go to the secretary of state’s office, and will probably be on the 2018 ballot. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Wednesday, April 12


Abortion bill wins preliminary approval
By Freddy Monares
The Montana House gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would make it unlawful for physicians to perform abortions after five months of pregnancy. Senate Bill 329 provides an exception for medical emergencies that threaten the life of the mother. Rep. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, a supporter of the bill, said he says he takes great offense when someone says men don’t understand abortion. “As someone who was born to an unwed mother—11 years before Roe v. Wade—I know where I would be,” Lenz said. Rep. Virginia Court, D-Billings, who opposes the bill, said it is the ultimate in government interference. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Monday, April 10

Resolution calls for study of pot legalization
By Cole Grant
Montana lawmakers may have the opportunity to study the possibility of  legalizing recreational marijuana in the next year or so. Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, said that even if now isn’t the time to legalize, it may be the time for the state to look at the issue. “I’m not sure it’s the best thing for Montana,” she said. “I just feel it’s an opportunity. Given what’s going on all around us, it’s an opportunity to take a look at this.”

House Joint Resolution 35, heard Monday, would create a committee that would study how recreational legalization would be carried out in Montana. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Friday, April 7


Bullock tries amending balloting bill
By Cole Grant
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock used his veto power Friday to amend a bill that landed on his desk to include a mail-in ballot option for Montana’s upcoming special congressional election. The amendatory veto comes after another bill died last month that would have allowed counties to opt in for mail ballots. (more…) Continue Reading →

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