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  • Margie MacDonald

“Everything, Everywhere, All at Once”

...or is it “I’m Just a Girl (Guy) Who Cain’t Say NO...

to any Bad Bill!"?

Legislative Bulletin # 13



Some of us thought the essence of “conservatism” was caution and a healthy respect for unanticipated outcomes in the face of radical change.


That would in no way describe the party with the Super Majority in 2023.

  • Montana super majority lawmakers have pretty much thrown every idea they’ve ever had at the wall to see what will stick.

  • The bad news is, way too much of it is passing into law.

  • Montana is in for quite a ride in the next couple years!

This legislature is dramatically rewriting the statutes of Montana:

  • Rewriting the tax system.

  • Rewriting the liquor laws.

  • Rewriting the judicial system and civil procedure.

  • Rewriting the election laws.

  • Rewriting land use planning and municipal zoning laws (from afar and without consultation, for the most part.)

  • Rewriting water protection and environmental oversight.

  • Rewriting energy regulations (including gerrymandering the Public Service Commission)

  • Rewriting landlord-tenant laws.

  • Rewriting child protection codes.

This is all in addition to the trove of culture war bills, including:

  • telling teachers, school boards, and libraries what they can teach or must censor, and what pronouns they may or may not use, and

  • telling Montanans what health care they can access for their children and families, including family planning and gender affirming care.

 

Theoretically, the pace of the legislature in the 2nd half of April should be slowing considerably. Instead, there is little let up:

  • Dozens and dozens of bills are still making their way through the process.

  • The days are running early and late, and many bills that shouldn’t get through are passing.

  • No bill is truly dead until after its transmittal deadline.

  • Bad bills that were initially tabled or voted down with both Republican and Democratic votes are being resurrected or reconsidered, only to sail all the way through to the Governor’s desk. Ordinarily, tabling or a loss on 2nd reading would be the end of it.

One of the few bright spots: numerous bills to refer amendments to the constitution are not faring well, mainly because it takes 100 votes to get on the ballot, rather than a simple majority.

 

Will nursing homes survive the 2023 Legislature? (Round 7)

The jury is still out on this important priority for 2023!


The Senate Finance and Claims Committee failed to raise the reimbursement rates for the state’s skilled nursing facilities to the MINIMUM recommended by the $2+ million Guidehouse Study. The committee voted on a party line vote against an amendment from Sen. Chris Pope (D-Bozeman) to bring the budget up to the minimum set by the study.


Four that voted NO to provide full-funding are Senators representing communities that lost their nursing homes in 2022(!):

  • Sen. Forrest Mandeville (R-Columbus),

  • Sen. Ken Bogner (R-Miles City),

  • Sen. Mike Lang (R-Malta), and

  • Sen. Shelley Vance (R-Bozeman).

Additionally, the Billings Gazette reported that one of the state's largest nonprofit nursing homes, located in Billings was planning to reduce 60 Medicaid bed units due to inadequate, unsustainable state reimbursement rates. Despite this, two Billings Senators also voted NO:

  • Sen. Tom McGillvray (R-Billings) and

  • Sen. Dennis Lenz (R-Billings)

It’s not as if the legislature doesn't have the money. They are sitting on a once in a generation surplus, and at this juncture of the budgeting process, they are only $25 million in general fund short of meeting the $278 benchmark recommended by the study.


The Guidehouse study was commissioned in 2021 by the Legislature in partnership with the Governor’s team. But when presented with the well-vetted and irrefutable numbers they paid for, lawmakers choked.


Sen. Pope will bring an amendment to the floor of the Senate later this week to again attempt to raise the reimbursement rate to the minimum recommended by Guidehouse. Please send a message to your Senator asking them to fully fund the Guidehouse recommendations.


 

Manufactured-home owners would get some relief in HB 889


Manufactured home parks have long been a critical housing source for aging Montanans on fixed incomes. Across the country private equity firms have been purchasing these parks - often without advance notice to the park’s residents. Three years ago, a Utah-based firm, Havenpark, purchased seven parks with 1,800 lots in Billings, Great Falls, and Kalispell. These firms can extract enormous profits by raising rents, decoupling utilities, and neglecting maintenance and upkeep.


Cindy Newman, resident of the Highwoods in Great Falls testified describing her community:

  • 80% of the residents are retired seniors,

  • 7 out of 10 subsist on a single, fixed income, and

  • 1 out of 3 with a disability.

Manufactured-home owners have a substantial investment in their home, and the added cost of finding a new location and moving the home can easily be $10,000 or more.


Rep. Jonathan Karlen (D-Missoula), with strong support from co-sponsors Sen. Pat Flowers (D-Belgrade) and Rep. George Nikolakakos (R-Great Falls), brought HB 889 to provide a more even playing field for the residents who rent lots in these parks.


The bill, as amended in the House:

  • Gives tenants 60 days’ notice of changes in the terms of their lease

  • Gives tenants sufficient time to move their home if they cannot come to an agreement with the landlord

  • Protects homeowners from retaliation for testifying before government bodies or forming an association

  • Puts reasonable sideboards on the landlord’s ability to limit tenants' ability to sell their homes

Click here to read an op ed in The Missoulian on HB 889.

You can still send messages to the Senate supporting this bill!


 

HB 971 blocks consideration of climate impacts and weakens MT Environmental Policy Act (MEPA)


On Friday the House voted to suspend the rules to allow introduction of a new special interest bill,

HB 971 (Rep. Josh Kassmier, R-Fort Benton), at the behest of the state’s largest utility, NorthWestern Energy.


HB 971 would would prohibit the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) from considering climate change when it analyzes environmental impacts and accepts public comment on projects under MEPA.

  • Worse yet, if the Supreme Court ever rules that our Constitution requires the state to consider climate change, then DEQ would be exempt from complying with MEPA for all hardrock mines, open cut mines, oil and gas developments, coal mines, and air pollution permits, regardless of impacts to public health, safety and welfare. (source: Montana Environmental Information Center)

The bill was written in response to a district court ruling in Yellowstone County regarding NorthWestern Energy's methane plant being constructed on the banks of the Yellowstone River near Laurel.


This is an egregious attack on our right to a clean and healthful environment. The hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee happened today (April 17). We'll keep you posted on this extreme anti-environment bill.


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