Montana Legislative Session Closes with Successes and Flops

Bullock has vetoed 29 of the 486 measures he's received so far and signed 320 bills into law

By ALISON NOON & LISA BAUMANN, Associated Press

HELENA — Montana lawmakers went home this week having passed landmark legislation including a Republican route to expand Medicaid, a water use agreement for the Flathead Indian Reservation and a new law to disclose “dark money” in political campaigns.

The GOP-led Legislature also negotiated a budget with Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s administration, though no overarching agreement was reached on how to fund infrastructure projects.

Bullock has vetoed 29 of the 486 measures he’s received so far and signed 320 bills into law.

Here’s a look at what else passed out of the Legislature, though Bullock still could rejects some of the plans, and what died in the process:

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PASSED

— TAXES: A Republican plan to simplify tax brackets and lower some people’s income taxes would cost the state between $10 million and $18 million annually, according to budget analysts (SB171). Few Democrats like the plan, and it could be one that Bullock vetoes.

— TRAFFIC: Lawmakers passed a bill to double DUI fines (HB488) as well as a plan to increase some highway speed limits from 75 to 80 and increase speeding ticket fines (SB375).

— STATE EMPLOYEE PAY: The final budget deal included wage raises for state employees totaling 50 cents an hour next year, and another 50 cents an hour in 2017. (HB13)

— MENTAL HEALTH: The Legislature passed roughly $20 million in mental health care initiatives. Bullock’s original budget package called for nearly all of the programs and expansions included (HB2, HB27, HB33, HB34, HB35, HB47).

— SUICIDE PREVENTION: A new law aims to lower Montana’s high rate of suicide by encouraging awareness and prevention training for public school employees (HB374).

— BULLYING: Montana joined every other state in the nation this year with a law against bullying (HB284).

— VACCINATIONS: Chicken pox vaccinations are required for the first time for public school students, and an exemption allowing kids over 6 to skip a whooping cough shot has been removed (HB158).

— REIMBURSED EXPENSES: Lawmakers approved a plan to double the reimbursements they can receive from doing state business away from the Capital. If Bullock signs it, legislators will be able to claim $3,000 every two years for travel, lodging and other expenses. They’ll also have the ability to ask for more (SB283).

— OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE: Bullock already has signed a measure to require the state to remove offensive words — including “breed” and “half-breed” — from the names of creeks and other places in Montana (HB331).

— SCHOOL CHOICE: The Legislature passed a bill to give tax credits to anyone who donates to public or private school programs as well as program to provide state funding for disabled kids to attend alternative schools (SB410, HB322).

— HIRE VETS: Bullock has signed a bill authorizing private employers to give hiring preference to veterans (SB196).

— SPECIAL ELECTIONS: The governor signed a bill to require special elections to fill Montana’s U.S. Senate seats, which is already required in cases of vacant seats in the U.S. House.

— ETHICS COMMISSIONER: In the last few days of the session, the Senate confirmed Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl, who helped craft the new campaign finance reform law.

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DEAD

— PRE-K: The Legislature shot down Bullock’s proposal to spend about $37 million over the next two years to provide state-funded preschool for 4-year-olds.

— TAXES: Bullock vetoed two Republican proposals to lower income taxes (SB200, HB166).

— RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: A bill to protect “religious freedom,” similar to the Indiana law that drew national attention this year, failed in the Montana House on a 50-50 vote (HB615). Opponents said it would have sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians.

— TRAFFIC: A bill to ban texting while driving died in the Senate (HB297).

— SCHOOL EXPANSION: Hellgate, Lockwood and East Helena elementary school districts could have split from larger school districts and created their own high schools under a proposal that narrowly failed in the House (SB107).

— SCHOOL CHOICE: Proposals for charter schools and tax credits for private school tuition died (HB596, HB433).

— RIGHT TO DIE: Lawmakers failed two opposing proposals to either uphold or counteract a 2009 decision by the Montana Supreme Court that nothing in state law prohibits physicians from giving aid in dying (HB 328, HB477).

— DRONES: Two Republican proposals to reign in use of unmanned flying aircraft died in the House (HB593, HB278).

— COAL: A senator representing the mining facility in Colstrip proposed massive fines against any company that closes coal plants in Montana. It failed in the House (SB402).

— WELFARE: Bullock vetoed a “welfare fraud protection act” (SB148), and a Senate panel tabled a bill to limit food stamps in counties with unemployment rates lower than 10 percent (SB206).

— FIREARMS: Bullock vetoed multiple Republican proposals to expand access to firearms, including bills to nullify future federal gun laws and Montana’s concealed carry permitting system (HB203, HB533). Bullock reversed his 2013 stance on noise suppressors and signed a law allowing them for hunting (HB250).

— LGBT PROTECTIONS: Republican lawmakers voted down a bill that would have banned discrimination against gay people by adding “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to the state’s Human Rights Act. (SB179).

— DEATH PENALTY: A bill that would have abolished the death penalty in Montana failed in the House on a 50-50 vote (HB370).

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