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  • Margie MacDonald

It's Been a Week! Legislative Bulletin #11


Only two people showed up to testify against the bill. The 8 a.m. hearing had been scheduled the night before and the actual text of SB 557* wasn't readily available.”


April 4 is the deadline to transmit all revenue and constitutional amendments to the other chamber. There was a flurry of last-minute, newly introduced bills that got “short shrift.”

  • Consequential bills were set for early morning hearings posted late the night before, precluding public sign-up for remote testimony (5:00 p.m. deadline) and too late to travel to Helena from many corners of the state.

  • Hearings stacked up 7-9 bills rushed along by harried Chairs.

  • Citizens were chided, pushed and interrupted as Committee chairs tried to get through a ridiculous volume of legislation.

The volume possibly reflects the lack of partisan balance in Montana legislative and executive branches. With a Republican super-majority and a Republican Governor, Republican lawmakers appear to have decided there is little or no filter and they are aggressively pushing lots of novel and radical bills through the process.


[*SB 557 limits citizens ability to bring actions to require state agency enforcement of the Montana Environmental Policy Act. Despite the lack of public notice for the hearing, it passed the Committee and will be on the floor of the Senate on Monday, April 3.]

 

2023 Session as of April 2

1,639 bills introduced (Day 66 of 90)

986 bills passed 2nd reading 1st Chamber

891 bills transmitted to 2nd Chamber

288 bills passed 2nd reading 2nd Chamber

169 bills passed TOTAL


Recent sessions TOTAL bills introduced:

1,313 bills introduced in 2021

1,309 bills introduced in 2019

1,188 bills introduced in 2017

1,187 bills introduced in 2015

1,201 bills introduced in 2013

1,179 bills introduced in 2011

 

Montana Constitution under attack!


Eight Constitutional amendments are heading to votes in the Senate and the House Monday and Tuesday. Only one of them is not terrible - it is just unnecessary. The remaining seven constitutional amendments would change Montana in dramatic and troubling ways, fundamentally destroying some of the pillars of our constitution, fraught with unintended consequences, and fundamentally duplicitous in their presentation to the voters of Montana.


These bills need 51 NO votes in either house to keep them off the 2024 ballot.

  • HB 327 (Fielder) Right to hunt and fish in Constitution - Decades of law and game management practices that restored Montana’s iconic wildlife from near decimation in the early 20th Century is at stake. It also would establish “trapping” as a constitutional right making oversight of this already legal activity problematic. 2nd reading in the House April 3.

  • HB 517 (Hopkins) Constitutional amendment regarding board of regents - Interferes with the ability of Regents to govern one of the strongest, most respected higher education systems in the West, competitive on every level nationally, academically, athletically, and student life. 2nd reading April 3 in House.

  • HB 551 (C.Knudsen) Implement constitutional carry into the Montana Constitution - Makes communities less safe as gun violence explodes in communities across the state. 2nd reading in the House April 3.

  • HB 915 (Mercer) Constitutional amendment to change process to select supreme court justices - Fundamentally defies the separation of powers and the independence of the Judiciary, putting the Supreme Court under the thumb of whichever Governor and party control the Executive Branch.

  • HB 965 (Schillinger) Constitutional amendment to remove Supreme Court rulemaking authority - Takes away the independence of the Judicial Branch, a key to what has made America’s constitutional system so resilient over nearly 250 years.

  • SB 272 (Manzella) Constitutional amendment to secure the office of County Sheriff - This theory of sheriff supremacy would open the way for unchecked abuse and corruption in law enforcement.

  • SB 534 (McGillvray) Constitutional amendment on redistricting - Takes away the tools that the Supreme Court has upheld to overrule gerrymandering of legislative districts by packing some party voters into fewer districts than their numbers reflect in the state overall.

  • SB 563 (Bogner) Constitutional amendment establishing a mental health trust fund - The same outcome could be achieved legislatively by placing a substantial investment in the constitutional Coal Trust fund, as has been proposed in other bills.

 

Will Montana nursing homes survive the 2023 Legislature? The jury is still out. Here is where things stand:


There are three bills where senior long-term care and other providers can still get the help they so desperately need. Here they are!

  • HB 649, (Caferro) to raise provider rates to an independently verified reimbursement benchmark came out of House Appropriations 14-9, with the sponsor's support. The bill now contains approximately $15 million (general fund + federal match) toward meeting the minimum benchmark. It is still $60 million short of the minimum benchmark recommended by the Guidehouse study, but it moves the needle toward the benchmark. The House votes on HB 649 April 3.

  • SB 296, (Beard) to help stabilize nursing home finances moving forward, passed out of the Senate Finance and Claims Committee (12-7) after a motion to revive the tabled bill on Friday. It was amended to remove the part of the bill that established an inflationary formula for provider rates moving forward but kept a section that provides some direction to the DPHHS to divert Medicaid eligible seniors who are on the long waiting list for the Big Sky Waiver waiting list to the Community First Choice for assisted living where appropriate. The Senate votes on SB 296 April 3.

  • HB 2, (Jones) the biennium budget will be heard in the Senate Finance and Claims Committee on Wednesday and Thursday. This is one of our last opportunities to save Montana nursing homes teetering on the brink. As it stands, Section B is $25 million (General Fund) short of the recommendations made by the $2 million Guidehouse study.

 

Affordable housing

  • HB 829, (Nikolakakos), to create low-income housing tax credits, was tabled in House Appropriations. It looks like the dollars to help finance affordable housing will be in the form of:

  • HB 927 (Speaker Matt Regier and Minority Leader Kim Abbott!) which would put $115 million from the General Fund in the Coal Trust to use as revolving loans to construct affordable housing. HB 829 was $1.5 million/year, sunset after six years that would leverage tens of millions in affordable housing construction almost immediately.

  • HB 889, (Karlen) to create a mobile home park renter's bill of rights. Remarkably, it passed out of House Judiciary and just passed second reading today (April 3). People own their mobile homes, which are not in fact very mobile, and have been impacted by a large, out-of-state private equity company that purchased seven large Montana parks with over 1,800 units. Havenpark, a Utah-based company, immediately set about raising lot rents (by hundreds/month) and adding utilities to the costs of lot rentals. Mobile home parks are critical affordable housing, especially benefiting seniors. Cindy Newman from The Highwoods in Great Falls testified that 80% of the residents are retired seniors, 7 in 10 rely on a single, fixed income and 1 in 3 have a disability.

 

Legislature attacks local government elections and taxing authorities


Bills that squeeze a wide (and overwhelming) array of local government officials and districts onto federal and statewide election ballots are highly disruptive and contemptuous of the importance of schools, city governments, and other smaller districts that have organized to provide water, fire, and a variety of infrastructure. These efforts are being pushed hard by Republican legislative leadership.

  • HB 774 (Hopkins) is a massive intrusion in longstanding governance and decision-making at the local level in multiple jurisdictions. It represents a partisan power play to diminish the opportunity to address local issues of consequence, including schools. A good faith effort to do something as dramatic and massive as HB 774 would have been grounded in a respectful and collaborative process involving local entities and leaders. HB 774 emerged as a “conversation” to be had while effectively changing the entire system by which local entities are constituted and operated. It came out of nowhere - no interim study, no special commission, no public hearings or meetings, no give and take, no good faith and no integrity. The House State Administration Committee tabled it in short order, only to be pushed by House Republican leadership into bringing forward a 70-page bill dropped out of the blue late in the session. Even its sponsor and chief advocates concede that is “not ready for prime time.” (Or should we say half-baked.) Skeptical lawmakers on the Republican side of the aisle have reluctantly moved it forward on the pretext that it has a delayed implementation date and that we can figure it out over the next couple of years. County election officials are unequivocal in asserting that it is incomprehensible and utterly unworkable. It will be on second reading Monday April 3.

  • SB 420 (Freidel) requires the election of city officials on even years. This is a similarly insulting and unilateral assertion of raw power against the well being and autonomy of local governments. It will smother civic discourse around municipal elections, making them more vulnerable to the corrupting effects of unlimited campaign funds by special interests. HB 420 has already sailed through the Senate and was heard in House Local Government where it is expected to pass, although we are working to help Montanans understand the attack on their local polity and ability to engage important matters.

  • SB 511 (Zolnikov) SB 511 is a legislative attempt to take authority away from locally elected city and county leaders. Local decisions should be made by local leaders, not the Montana legislature. It imposes arbitrary limitations on local government revenues and expenditures that will cripple local public services, including law enforcement. “Montana legislators say they back the blue, but SB 511 does just the opposite,” Montana Federation of Public Employees leader Amanda Curtis wrote to her members this weekend. Curtiss urged members to contact every member of the Senate to vote no on this bill which will be on 2nd reading Monday April 3.



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