Capitol Corner: This Week at the Legislature

Every two years, Montana’s 100-member House of Representatives and 50-member Senate gather in Helena for 90 days of budget negotiations, lawmaking and shenanigans. During the Legislative Session, Prairie Populist will share updates on the issues that matter most to you and the bills that impact your daily lives. See all our coverage here.

This past week, a range of activities—including rallies for issues like clean energy and school choice and a hearing on the public involvement in wildlife management—brought a lot of folks in and out of the Capitol. Legislators also introduced the Firefighter Health and Safety Act, a bill we are watching closely.

With Medicaid expansion still a topic of hot debate, the rumor mill is overflowing with speculation about what will be in it, and what will not. With Republicans holding strong majorities in both houses, we can assume that the effort to reauthorize Medicaid expansion for the poorest and most needy Montanans will have a decidedly conservative flair. That has not stopped both Democrats and Republicans from pushing the edges on what folks will accept in the compromise bill. But, at the end of the day, it’s the votes that count—not the ideas.

On Tuesday, about four dozen hunters, anglers, bird watchers, state parks advocates, and other wildlife lovers showed up for the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) hearing on HB 161. The bill would require FWP to only consider public comment on a variety of issues if they come from landowners or a county commissioner. The entirety of the testimony from the public was against the bill, with Representative Kerry White (R0-Gallatin Gateway) as the lone proponent. The committee is expected to act on the bill next week. If that bill does pass out of committee, we suspect public response will get even louder as the legislation heads to the House Floor.

We’re excited SB 160 is finally getting its long overdue consideration. For approximately 20 years, Montana’s firefighters have gone without health coverage for cancer, a major risk of the job for first responders. We’ve covered the issue here. We are hopeful that the bill passes and will have more in-depth coverage of this as it progresses.
The big lift of figuring out what happens with Infrastructure is also underway. Competing ideas between Republicans and Democrats are surfacing around the usual disagreements, such as how to pay for much-needed upgrades to our bridges, water systems, sewers, roads, and schools. The Legislature has failed to pass a major infrastructure package in the last several sessions. Will they get their acts together this time and stop the bickering long enough to keep Montana moving forward?

Finally, the good folks at The Great Falls Tribunehave put together some bingo cards of commonly heard phrases in the capitol halls. It you are on Twitter, it’s worth checking out and play along. That’s right. It’s not all serious in the halls of the People’s House. Using the hashtags #MTPOL and #MTLEG, reporters, lobbyists, politicians, agency staffers, and everyday Montanans weigh in on the political issue of the day. Away from the cesspool of nasty comments and Russian trolls that typically blanket Twitter, those two hashtags are pure Montana. If you have a Twitter account, they are worth following.

~The Prairie Populist

Every two years, Montana’s 100-member House of Representatives and 50-member Senate gather in Helena for 90 days of budget negotiations, lawmaking and shenanigans. During the Legislative Session, Prairie Populist will share updates on the issues that matter most to you and the bills that impact your daily lives. See all our coverage here.

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