Montana Session Closing with Several Bills Hanging

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — The Montana Legislature ended the 2013 session Wednesday with several bills favored by one party or the other failing to make the cut — with Gov. Steve Bullock’s plan to expand Medicaid to up to 70,000 residents foremost among them.

House Majority Leader Rep. Gordon Vance, of Bozeman, said he was disappointed with measures that increased spending and didn’t cut enough in taxes, but he considered the failure of the Democratic governor’s Medicaid expansion a win for the Republican Party.

“The reality is … everybody outside this building gets the fact that we don’t need it,” Vance said. “It would end up being incredibly expensive for the taxpayers and the state of Montana with no way to turn back.”

The bill’s defeat was a loss for Democrats, who said the measure would have enabled the working poor to purchase health insurance.

Bullock said after the Senate adjourned that he is considering calling a special session to address Medicaid expansion.

House Minority Leader Chuck Hunter, of Helena, said if an expansion doesn’t happen, tens of thousands of residents would be forced to buy health insurance next year through a new exchange with no assistance other than federal tax credits.

“They are unfortunately out of luck,” Hunter said. “That is the failure of this Legislature to recognize the impact on the lowest of the low.”

Democrats also were disappointed with the failure of House Bill 217, which would have added restrictions to campaign spending by churches and so-called “dark money,” Hunter said.

Republicans were thwarted in many of their own efforts to pass legislation, even though they control both legislative chambers.

Bullock has made use of his veto pen to reject several measures, including bills to restrict bison relocation and gun control.

One was a bill that would have prohibited state enforcement of a federal ban on semi-automatic weapons. That and another measure that would allow college students to carry guns on college campuses are necessary for some individuals to protect themselves, Vance said.

The governor vetoed House Bill 302 dealing with a federal weapons ban, and Vance said he believes a veto to the college guns bill is close at hand.

“The last place I would want to be is in a place like this, where all there is that keeps an angry, deranged individual from bringing a gun in here is a stencil on a wall,” Vance said, referring to signs that say no weapons are allowed on campus.

Hunter said Democrats overall had a fairly successful session in passing the major pieces of their agenda, like raises for state employees and fixing the state pension system.

And he agrees with Vance on one major point: Republicans are leaving disappointed.

“In comparison to … tax changes that they passed, they are leaving the session with a very small amount,” Hunter said.

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