On Tuesday afternoon, April 25, both chambers of the legislature voted to sine die (Latin term meaning, without a day specified for a future meeting), and the 66th session came to an end.
You are likely aware of the higher profile issues during the 87-day session. These included, the renewal of Medicaid for low income working Montana’s, bonding bills that create a funding capacity and protocol along with $80 million of immediate borrowing authority for projects throughout the state, a bill to investigate and prevent the loss of indigenous women, bills that address loopholes in child sexual crimes and the statutes of limitation, a funding method to construct a new state historical museum and fund museums and historical sites throughout the state, the inability to continue and expand pre-K child development and education programs, the inability to reach consensus concerning actions by the legislature on the future of the Colstrip power units and the infighting of the majority party. Both Speaker Herst (despite the infighting), and Minority Leader Schreiner (a mostly unified and amenable caucus), did an admirable job in leading the House to productive outcomes.
Some of the lower profile issues introduced, debated and passed for the governor’s signature include: The formation of a statewide high risk reinsurance pool to lower premium prices for individuals purchasing their policies, updated and sustainable funding for the prevention of aquatic invasive species, updates on rules and funding for medical marijuana, a continuation of the tuition freeze for higher education, additional funding through the vehicle registration opt in/out system for funding state parks and trails, a tax credit for businesses hiring new employees at a minimum of $45,000 per year and benefits, the continuation of the tax credit for the highly successful endowment organizations throughout the state and a low interest lending program through the Board of Housing towards affordable housing.
I paid a visit with a legislative staff member to start the research process for potential future bills; my last official duty before leaving the capitol. Looking forward to the interim and the 2021 session I will be paying close attention to the following issues: Evaluating and improving the state workforce development programs including Career and Technical Education, apprenticeship programs, tax credits and abatements; the pension systems and the increased unfunded liabilities associated with the Teachers Retired System, and the Public employees System, tax reform through better matching our economy to our tax system, the management of the Department of Public Health and Human Services, and managing the risks and opportunities associated with Colstrip units and the transmission lines.
Interim committee work starts this summer. Once again, I will be serving on the Local Government Interim Committee. Legislators owe much to their spouses, friends, family members, and employers for allowing us to relocate our lives to Helena. The sacrifices can be substantial in preserving relationships and often times enduring financial challenges. The friendships made in the legislature bridges political divides. The challenges of a citizen legislature are many with the staff providing the technical and organizational assistance to make the process a success. I look forward to serving the people of House District 5, and with continued good health, I hope to continue service through seeking another term.
Democrat Dave Fern represents House District 5 in the state Legislature.