Legislature gets rolling for 66th session

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The 66th session of the Montana Legislature was sworn into office on Jan. 7. With five new Senators and 31 new Representatives, there is a steep learning curve to implement. The Flathead Valley is well represented in leadership positions this session. On the House side Representative Greg Hertz of Polson is the Speaker. Representative Derek Skees is a Majority Whip and chairman of Rules Committee. Representative Carl Glimm is chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Representative Matt Regier is chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Judicial Branch, Law Enforcement and Justice. Representative Mark Nolan is chairman of the Business and Labor Committee. Representative Bob Brown of Thompson Falls; whose district includes Marion; is chairman of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee. On the Senate side Senator Mark Blasdel is President Pro Tempore. Senator Dee Brown is chair of the State Administration Committee and chair of the Committee on Committees. Senator Keith Regier is chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Senator Jennifer Fielder of Thompson Falls; whose district includes Marion; is chair of the Fish and Game Committee.

Several bills had committee hearings by the end of the first week. Some bills of interest to the Flathead Valley that were heard are SB19 and SB87. SB19 is an act revising laws related to budgeting and accounting by local government entities. It would require the Attorney General to perform investigations and bring actions against local governments when financial reports and audits are not done in accordance with law. This bill was introduced because of financial problems occurring in Glacier County government. It may have unintended financial impacts on other counties. Amendments are being worked on to assure those consequences donít happen. SB87 is an act increasing the financial literacy of students who borrow money to pay for college. It would have the Montana University System present seminars that include the responsibility of debt, salary expectations for their chosen field and strategies for avoiding debt. It would also have the schools provide to students with loans, their current amount of debt, monthly payment schedule, employment rate in their field and average starting salary in that field. This is to be done twice annually with the studentís grade report. Americans owe $1.5 trillion in student loans. Credit card debt is $977 billion. Pay back of these loans is usually not until the student graduates or leaves school. Then the payments start. The reality of payments when looking for work can be stressful. It is the intent of the legislature that students borrowing money to finance their college education are empowered with an understanding of the responsibility of incurring debt and knowledge about the earning potential of their chosen programs of study.

These bills and all other bills can be tracked online at the Montana Legislature website leg.mt.gov.

Republican Keith Regier represents Senate District 3 in the state Legislature.

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