Representative provides update from Montana Legislature

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So many bills come and go. The sponsor presents a bill. She articulates the merits of her bill in a carefully crafted synopsis to set the stage for opponents and proponents to convince the committee. The sponsor hands off the bill to the committee. Ownership is short lived. One need not become emotional, the bill will live a life of its own; amended, tabled, brought off the table, read on the floor and moved to the other chamber. Itís not easy passing a bill. Many will fail.

My friend, Rep. Frank Garner, Kalispell, advised me to prepare for an emotional hearing in the House Transportation Committee. Garner, a former police officer understood the circumstances surrounding the bill. The bill starts like this, ďWhereas in Broadwater County on US Highway 287 on May 16, 2017, Mason Moore gave his life in the line of duty ...Ē Moore was a deputy in Broadwater County. He was brutally gunned down by a father and son team, gangland style, close to his home on Highway 287. A newly elected legislator representing Broadwater County, Rep. Julie Dooling, reviewed the incident in her synopsis of the bill. Not an easy task. Apparently the two perpetrators expressed a desire to indiscriminately kill a peace officer. Testifying at the hearing included Masonís immediate family his spouse with their three children, peace officers from his department, the Highway Patrol and the Attorney General Tim Fox. Those testifying on his behalf stressed the importance of public service. To provide some form of closure to the family, the committee took immediate executive action and passed the bill out of committee. No questions were asked. The bill is in the Senate and I assume it will soon be signed by the governor.

The first weeks of the legislature have been productive. The House passed K-12 school funding (a statutory inflationary increase that does not include special education), and a state pay plan. There is serious discussion concerning the reauthorization of Medicaid. Two bills will soon emerge. Differences will likely be negotiated concerning work requirements, premium payments by the insured, and a final taxing method (likely to be fees on health insurance and hospitals). The legislature will take a hard look at pharmaceutical costs and the role of PBMís (Pharmacy Benefit Managers).

There will be friction concerning the governorís budget. The majority will resist revenue enhancement (tax increases on liquor, tobacco and the bed tax). One element of the governorís budget is the full implementation of pre-K education for at a voluntary level. The legislature will debate taxes, much it by way of the committee I serve on, House Tax.

HB 16, a bill I sponsored, establishes an affordable housing loan program advanced to the floor this week. Following amendments, the House Tax Committee passed out the bill 13-5. I presented HB 235 in Health and Human Services. This bill seeks to provide incentives to school districts to join a large health insurance trust. I also presented HB 195 before House Tax, to allow non-resort communities to vote in a local option luxury sales tax for infrastructure. This bill was tabled and I donít expect see it advance. The local option tax works in the 10 resort communities and districts. Expansion of the tax continues to be a controversial topic.

Consider vising your Legislature. The process is interesting and you will be impressed with the demeanor (most of the time), substance and scholarship of the many bills presented. I look forward to your correspondence.

Democrat Dave Fern represents House District 5 in the Montana Legislature.

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