Final Montana Legislative Report For 2017

May 1, 2017



 Report Compiled by Ed Bartlett

Syndicated by: Montana News

The 65th Legislative Session adjourned  on Friday, April 28th, the 88th Legislative Day.  The House voted to adjourn after several failed attempts to approve SB 367, the $80.3 million infrastructure bonding bill. 


SB 367 needed a two-thirds majority vote, or 67 votes to pass, but failed 64 yes to 35 no.  The Bill included several major funding projects, including the Science Building at MSUB, the City of Laurel water intake, Romney Hall in Bozeman, and the veteran’s care home in Butte. 


Prior to adjournment, the House also failed to pass HB 8, the customary bill for renewable resource bonds and loans, which would have provided $41 million to rural water projects through loans from the coal trust fund. 


HB 660, sponsored by Minority Leader, Rep. Jennifer Eck, was not considered for final votes in the House because it was tied to passage of SB 367.  HB 660 would have increased the lodging facility use tax to construct a new Montana Heritage Center Museum in Helena. 


During the Session, the Legislature passed slightly over 500 bills and adopted 78 resolutions.  Also, during the Session, the Governor vetoed 13 bills.   


The Legislature passed the General Budget Bill, HB 2, when the House concurred with Senate amendments on April 20th, by a vote of 60 to 40.  By accepting the Senate amendments to HB 2, no conference committee was necessary.  The Bill will be transmitted to the Governor.  The Senate approved an additional $57 million to the budget passed by the House.  The House had approved the general fund budget of $4.02 billion contained in HB 2 on a party-line vote of 59 to 41 on March 16th.  HB 2 is slightly more than the 2017 biennium appropriation with different allocations than the proposed Executive budget, and includes an ending fund balance of $200 million (the Governor’s ending fund balance would be $300 million).


Last week, the Legislature completed actions and passed several infrastructure bills, including HB 5 (long-range building), HB 6 (renewable resource grants), HB 7 (reclamation and development grants), HB 9 (cultural and aesthetic grants), and HB 11 (treasure state endowment program).  The appropriations under these bills would pay for about $213 million in infrastructure projects.  They will be transmitted to the Governor.     


During the Session, 1188 bills were introduced, of the 2611 filed bill draft requests.  For this Final Report, the following topics and bills are also highlighted:

  • Local Government Optional Tax Authority:  SB 331, sponsored by Sen. Mike Phillips, would have granted authority to cities and counties to adopt a local option luxury tax upon voter approval.  This Bill was tabled in Senate Taxation Committee.  A very similar local option tax authority bill, HB 577, sponsored by Rep. Dave Fern, was tabled in the House Taxation Committee.

  • Infrastructure Funding:  1) The Legislature passed HB 473, sponsored by Rep. Frank Garner, to increase the gasoline tax.  As amended, the Bill will increase the statewide gasoline tax by 4.5 cents per gallon in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, and gradually increase the tax to 6 cents per gallon in fiscal year 2023.  The Bill will provide about $16 to $24 million per year in new revenue for local government streets and roads during the first five fiscal years, and about $28 million per year thereafter.  2)  Another infrastructure bonding bill, HB 645, sponsored by Rep. Mike Cuffe, failed on 3rd Reading in the House.  It would have supported about $78 million for infrastructure projects, including $5 million for the MSUB Science Building.  3) The Governor’s budget included $292 million for identified infrastructure projects.      

  • Daily Detention Center Rates:  HB 230, sponsored by Rep. Don Jones, would have set reimbursement rates for detention centers at “actual” costs.  The Bill was tabled and missed the transmittal deadline.  HB 2 includes a provision setting reimbursement rates for detention centers at $69 per day.

  • 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.  The Bill passed the Legislature, and has been signed by the Governor.       

  • 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 the Senate, but was tabled in House Business & Labor Committee.   

  • 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 passed the Legislature, and has been signed by the Governor.        

  • 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 passed the Legislature and has been signed by the Governor.      

  • SB 231, sponsored by Sen. Roger Webb, would designate Airport Road in Billings from Main Street to the Airport as the “Senator Conrad Burns Memorial Highway”.  It passed the Legislature, and was signed by the Governor on April 13th.  Commissioners Ostlund and Pitman attended the signing ceremony with the Governor      

  • SB 305, sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, provides that the special election to fill the vacancy in the office of US Representative may be conducted by mail ballot.  The Bill passed the Senate, but was tabled in the House Judiciary Committee.     

  • SB 366, sponsored by Sen. Jill Cohenour, would provide for a new driver’s license to comply with the Federal Real ID Act.  It passed the Legislature.       

  • HB 44, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Essmann, was amended to add three, instead of five, new State District Judges in Montana (2 in Yellowstone County, and one in Missoula County).  The Bill passed the Legislature as amended in the Senate.          

  • 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.  HB 61 passed the Legislature as amended in the Senate.  SB 294, the State government pay plan bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, includes a transfer of $2 million from the 9-1-1 reserve account to fund early retirement buy-outs of university faculty.                

  • HB 83, sponsored by Rep. Bryce Bennett, revises, corrects and modifies election laws passed in the 2015 Session.  It passed the Legislature as amended in the Senate.  However, on April 7th, the Governor amended the Bill by including mail ballot provisions of SB 305 in HB 83.  The Senate did not concur with these amendments, and a motion to consider them failed in the House on the last Legislative Day.   

  • HB 133, sponsored by Rep. Nate McConnell, to de-criminalize a number of criminal offenses and penalties.  The Conference Committee report was adopted by the Legislature.      

  • HB 287, sponsored by Rep. Bryce Bennett, would make the voter absentee roster permanent.  It passed the House, but was tabled in Senate State Administration.  It was removed to the Senate on a “blast” motion, and passed the Senate.        

  • HB 442, sponsored by Rep. Virginia Court, would provide a tax exemption for public parks operated by not for profit organizations.  It was tabled in House Taxation, but was reconsidered, and then passed the House.  It failed on 3rd Reading in the Senate.           

  • HB 509, sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Patelis, would designate 6 miles of Interstate 90 between mile 445 and mile 451 in Yellowstone County as the “Deputy Sheriff David L. Briese, Jr. Memorial Highway”.  The Bill passed and was signed by the Governor.     

  • HB 481, sponsored by Rep. Bob Brown, would allow counties to authorize the county to act on wildfires on all lands within the county when fire danger is immediate.  The Bill passed the House, but was tabled in Senate Natural Resources Committee.  Commissioner Pitman opposed this Bill in the Senate Committee.

  • HB 565, sponsored by Rep. Rob Cook, implements the Governor’s budget to reduce the local government entitlement share growth rate for the 2019 biennium.  As a result, counties statewide will lose, one time only, several million dollars in growth funds for the 2019 biennium.

  • HB 586, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Lenz, would authorize a grant to the City of Laurel for its Yellowstone River water intake project.  The Bill passed the Legislature as amended in the Senate, on April 27th.  However, it was contingent upon passage of the bonding bill, SB 367 which failed in the House on April 28th.  The bonding bill provision was for $1.7 million.         

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