Montana Legislature

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Legislative Update: Friday, March 10

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Budget amendment would raise pay for care providers
By Cole Grant
The Montana House Appropriations Committee is nearly done ironing out amendments to House Bill 2, the main budget bill. Rep. Marilyn Ryan, D-Missoula proposed an amendment to the Department of Health and Human Services budget Friday that would increase wages for those who work directly with seniors and people with developmental disabilities. “This is costly, I will not deny it,” she said. “But I believe we have a responsibility to every citizen in Montana to find the money to improve the wages of our direct-care workers.”

Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, said he appreciated the light the amendment shines on provider rates and direct-care wages. “But to just pull $61 million out of that ending fund balance and then pretend that we have some way to heal that before we get out of here with a budget that’s balanced and acceptable is in a lot of ways erroneous,” he said. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Thursday, March 9

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Bill would refund taxpayers if enrollment projections miss the mark
By Freddy Monares
When schools overestimate the number of students in their district, Montana property taxpayers end up eating that cost. House Bill 390 would return the excess money collected back to taxpayers the following year. Eric Feaver, president of the MEA-MFT teachers union, spoke in favor of the bill. “What it says about overestimating is important, and we certainly don’t want people in any way to think that school districts are trying to scam the system and this addresses that,” Feaver said. The bill also aims to change a $1 million appropriation for school technology grants to be used as matching funds for a federal program to provide schools with internet access. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Wednesday, March 8

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Cuts to health and human services at issue
By Cole Grant
Montana Health and Human Services Director Sheila Hogan is cautioning lawmakers about what decreasing funding to her department might mean for Montanans. “The budget will dramatically impair the services we provide to seniors, and those with disabilities in Montana, and compromise our ability to serve Montana’s most vulnerable community members,” she said. The governor’s office says the Legislature’s current budget proposes about $93 million less than its proposal for the agency. Nancy Ballance, of Hamilton, Republican chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, says it’s important to differentiate between cuts and a reduction of increases in funding. “And while it might be somewhat entertaining to listen to you speak about things that are scaring our seniors and scaring our disabled people, that is not what this department has done, and that is not what we intend to do,” she said. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Monday, Feb. 27

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Charter school act passes state House
By Freddy Monares
A bill that its sponsor says would provide additional educational opportunities by establishing a public charter schools act passed the House of Representatives on a vote of 55 to 44 on Monday. Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, is the sponsor of House Bill 376. During the bill’s first hearing, recorded and archived on the Montana Legislature’s website, Windy Boy said 75 percent of high school students graduate. He says his bill aims to address the other 25 percent. “The public school system, which I’m a product of, tells me that the system doesn’t work for everybody,” Windy Boy said. Continue Reading →

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At halfway point, legislative focus is on budget

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The 65th Montana legislative session has reached its halfway point, and the state budget still weighs heavy. Republicans and Democrats are working to reach a compromise on how to fund state programs, with battles over other policy happening simultaneously. (more…) Continue Reading →

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Daines presses support for Gorsuch in Helena visit

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U.S. Sen. Steve Daines addressed the Montana House of Representatives last week, touching on his role in Washington, his backing of the Keystone XL Pipeline and his support for the appointment of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Daines repeatedly said he and other Republicans in Washington are seeking less federal power and more states’ rights. (more…) Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Thursday, Feb. 23

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Peace officer bill tabled
By Cole Grant
]The Senate Judiciary Committee tabled a bill Thursday that would put assault of a former peace officer on par with assault of a current peace officer. Joe Cohenour, husband of the sponsor of Senate Bill 265, Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, said he’d been threatened while he was a police officer. “One individual I had arrested seven different times for seven different crimes, and put him into jail, which subsequently put him into prison, and he just told me one day you know, one day you’re going to retire, you’re not going to be a cop anymore. And I’ll see you then.”

S.K. Rossi with the Montana ACLU said Senate Bill 265 is unnecessary, because the laws are already in place. “To be perfectly honest, working for the ACLU I get threatened all the time,” Rossi said. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Wednesday, Feb. 22

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Airline deregulation revisions sought
By Freddy Monares
In an effort to control prices on air ambulance rides in Montana, lawmakers are considering urging Congress to revise the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. Senate Joint Resolution 13 results from an interim committee’s study that found prices for air ambulance services in the state were leaving some patients bankrupt. Sen. Tom Facey, D-Missoula, is the sponsor of the resolution. During testimony on a different piece of legislation, recorded and archived on the state Legislature’s website, Facey explained why the 1978 federal law is a problem. “Because no matter what you do with rates or shares, you can go to court and say, ‘Hey, Airline Deregulation Act says you can’t do this,’” Facey said. Continue Reading →

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