On February 2nd, the Governor issued an amendatory veto of HB 1, the “Feed Bill”, which the Legislature passed to pay for the legislative costs of the Session. The Governor decreased the $11.5 million appropriation by $1.3 million (cutting the 15% increase over 2015 to a 1.5% increase). The Legislature rejected the Governor’s amendments, and the Bill has been returned to the Governor for reconsideration.
The fifth week of the Session was devoted to daily appropriations sub-committee hearings for the third week of the session- long effort to adopt and pass a budget acceptable to the Governor and the Legislature. The budget (HB 2) will be the major bill considered and debated. Due to declining revenues, there is and will be a budget shortfall at the current spending level. The Governor’s budget includes spending cuts, transfers from several revenue accounts and specific tax increases. The Republican majority has reduced the fiscal year 2017 budget amounts by an additional 5% (about $120 million) as the base starting point for budget presentations.
As of today, 618 bills have been introduced, of the 2571 filed bill draft requests. For this Report, in addition to the budget, the following topics, bills, and bill draft requests (LCs) are highlighted:
Local Government Optional Tax Authority:Bill drafts are still in final drafting stages (LC 0249 and LC 2325) and discussions continue with the expected sponsor and the Montana Infrastructure Coalition (MIC).
Infrastructure Funding:The MIC has a multiple package approach to raise revenues for needed infrastructure statewide.The MIC is supporting local option tax authority, an increase in the state’s gasoline tax, creating a loan fund from a portion of the coal tax trust fund, and public/private partnerships to pay for roads, bridges, sewer, and water projects statewide.The Governor’s budget includes $292 million for identified projects, including the Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena, Romney Hall on the MSU campus, and a veteran’s home and care facility in Butte.
Revising the Tax Appeals Process:Yellowstone County will monitor and support bills introduced to improve and decrease the time it takes to resolve tax appeals, particularly appeals involving centrally assessed and industrial properties.
Daily Detention Center Rates:Yellowstone County will monitor and support bills to provide additional revenue to detention centers.HB 230, sponsored by Rep. Don Jones, would set reimbursement rates for detention centers at “actual” costs.Commissioner Ostlund supported this Bill at the Committee hearing.The Bill passed 2nd Reading in the House and was rereferred to the Appropriations Committee.
SB 2, sponsored by Sen. Pat Connell, would clarify when a gathering of a quorum of county commissioners does not constitute a public meeting of the commissioners.It has been rereferred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.It was heard on Feb. 1st.
SB 72, sponsored by Sen. Pat Connell, is a firefighter presumptive illness bill. Unlike presumptive illness bills considered in previous Legislative Sessions, this Bill restricts the covered diseases and is funded by the State instead of the workers’ compensation system.The Bill passed 2nd Reading in the Senate and was rereferred to Senate Finance Committee.
SB 196, sponsored by Sen. Dee Brown, would require reductions in the use of some deicers on roads.It was supported in Committee by a 6 to 3 vote.
SB 139, sponsored by Sen. Duane Ankney, would allow certain K-12 school district expansions.It would permit Lockwood and East Helena to include a high school in their districts.The Bill has been heard in Senate Education Committee.
SB 151, sponsored by Sen. Dee Brown, would add a new legislative interim committee for local government topics.These matters are now part of the combined Education & Local Government Interim Committee.This Bill was heard in Committee on Feb. 1st.
HB 44, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Essmann, would add five new State District Judges in Montana (2 in Yellowstone County, and one each in Cascade, Flathead, and Missoula Counties).The Governor’s budget provides for two additional District Court Judges.(There are currently 46 District Court Judges in the State.)The hearing in House Judiciary was Jan. 27.Commissioner Driscoll supported this Bill at the hearing on Jan. 27th.The Appropriations Sub-Committee has recommended funding only two new judges, one in Yellowstone County and one in Missoula County.
HB 61, sponsored by Rep. Frank Garner, would revise the allocation of 9-1-1 fees and provide for Next-Generation 9-1-1 services.Although not part of the Bill, the Governor’s budget transfers about $10 million from the 9-1-1 reserve to the general fund, which is contrary to the purpose of the 9-1-1 system.It passed 2nd Reading in the House and was rereferred to the Appropriations Committee.
HB 83, sponsored by Rep. Bryce Bennett, revises, corrects and modifies election laws passed in the 2015 Session.It passed the House.A hearing in the Senate Committee was held Jan. 30th.Yellowstone County will also monitor and support other bills improving the election process for election administrators and citizens.
HB 287, sponsored by Rep. Bryce Bennett, would make the voter absentee roster permanent.A hearing in Committee was held Feb. 2nd.
Ed Bartlett, is acting as the Yellowstone County Lobbyist, His number is cell: 406-431-6014 and his email is: firstname.lastname@example.org