Friends and neighbors,
I write with a “half-time” report from the Montana Legislature. My apologies for not writing more often. It’s been very busy!
From the beginning, House Republican leadership built a 5-point plan outlining our top priorities:
(1) Jobs & Revitalizing the Economy
(2) Natural Resource Development
(3) Balancing the Budget & Streamlining Government
(4) Educational Excellence
(5) Preserving Freedom
We invited businesses from across Montana to Helena Jan. 8 to advise us how to make Montana business friendly and grow jobs. Read about many jobs-focused bills at www.rotundareport.com. The number one concern was Montana’s extremely high worker’s comp rates.
In response, we passed a good work comp reform bill that analysis says will bring us to competitive levels with other states. HB334 passed on a party line vote and now heads to the Senate.
We also have legislation coming to reform MEPA (MT Environmental Policy Act) to be more business friendly, and there are bills being developed to address Montana’s uncompetitive Business Equipment Tax.
Believe it or not, clamping down on medical marijuana is a big jobs issue, too! Companies with safety concerns, like oil companies, have been nervous about doing business in Montana since the proliferation of marijuana use. We heard testimony that Montana is now labeled a “source country” like Mexico and South American countries. Motorcycle gangs and organized crime have moved into Montana to ferry drugs grown here to their cohorts on the coast. Bills to repeal marijuana or to severely restrict its distribution are working through the legislature.
Balancing the budget and streamlining government go hand in hand. We won’t see the final results for a few weeks (I’ll keep you posted), but our Appropriations committee is taking steps that have been needed for years, such as putting sunsets on all statutory appropriations (HB 316), meaning spending that is written right into the code. Sunsetting does not automatically eliminate monies for important state responsibilities. It simply means the Legislature will periodically examine that spending and retain, reduce or remove it as appropriate. HB 317 will require government agencies to go through zero-based budgeting. HB 444 will put the state’s checkbook online so YOU can see exactly how your tax money is being spent. There’s good support for TSEP and I’m optimistic about restoring TSEP funding.
Bills with revenue increases or reductions tied to them, like most education bills, have later deadlines in the legislative process, so some haven’t yet come out for a vote. One good bill on the way will allow for charter schools in Montana, successful in other states and an exciting opportunity for Montana.
We’ve passed a multitude of other important bills. Bills to control wolves, illegal immigration bills, bills challenging the authority of the federal government to require Montanans to purchase health insurance, and bills to make private sector health insurance more affordable for Montanans.
A constitutional referendum to require that “economically productive” be added to the “clean and healthful environment” clause. A bill to require that nonprofits who sue to stop industrial projects must disclose who their financial supporters are. Bills to make eminent domain more fair and profitable to landowners. HB 309 to protect property rights and safety by clarifying that irrigation ditches are not open to the public like rivers and streams. A bill to implement a 24/7 program (like South Dakota) to keep drunk drivers off the road without spending millions to incarcerate them. A bill to reduce insurance rates by allowing insurance companies to consider gender. Bills defining that wind energy development rights belong to the surface owner. Bills to crack down on prescription drug abuse. Tort reform bills.
We have passed a lot of good bills! My HB 318 will require county commissioner permission before FWP can dump wild bison into a county, and my HB 377 will allow CNAs to become medication aides to reduce the pressure on nurses and save nursing homes money on travel nurses. I also spoke in support of including funding for MSU-Northern’s auto diesel tech building in a bonding bill for college buildings around the state. MSU-N auto diesel graduates get jobs! If anything is done to renovate college buildings in Montana, Northern needs to be included!
This year we have a clear Republican majority in the House, with 68 Republicans and 32 Democrats. Republicans have a slimmer lead in the Senate and don’t have a veto-proof majority, however, so not everything that passes the House is a slam dunk.
The democrats this session don’t have much power legislatively, so unfortunately some of their partisan operatives’ focus has been on negative, campaign-style rhetoric. I’m hoping that will change in the next half of the session so we can move forward together positively for Montana.
If you want to get an unbiased and unedited view of what is happening in Helena, you can look up bills, watch bill hearings, and even watch the House and Senate sessions at http://www.leg.mt.gov/ or on the TVMT cable channel.
You are welcome to call or email me directly any time at 262-3185 or firstname.lastname@example.org . I’m honored to serve you in the 62nd Legislature.
Rep. Wendy Warburton