On the home stretch of the 67th legislative session

Ken Holmlund Guest Columnist
Tuesday, April 6, 2021
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As the Legislature returns from a short Easter break there is still a lot of major issues to tackle . Some legislators took two working days off for Easter but five of us that are deeply involved in HB 632-The Beast-were back for meetings Monday.

HB 632 crossed over to the Senate before the break but it is far from being done. Since no one has ever worked on a federal government drop of just south of 3 billion dollars there are many technical and process questions to work out. Major steps in that direction were accomplished Monday in several hours of discussion between appropriations, Finance and Claims, and the executive- Budget Director Kurt Alme. More discussion to come on this issue.

HB 2 is in the Senate as well. The When HB 2 left the House it was 1.2% below Gov. Gianforte’s budget but, as is usually the case, the Senate added millions to the total so it has to come back to the House. The House is very likely to not concur with the amendments from the Senate so HB 2 will go to a conference committee. The results from the conference committee will have to be voted on by both houses.

Marijuana is still an undecided issue in the House. Several bills have been presented but the most comprehensive bill is HB 701- about 160 pages long and still a work in progress. HB 701 lays out the framework for the implementation of the initiative but one thing about that initiative needs to be understood. Parts of it are unconstitutional by the Montana constitution. Appropriation of funds is a duty assigned exclusively to the legislature so the areas in the bill listed to receive funds can not stand.

The other big issue still before the legislature is how the cat and dog bills fit into the constitutionally required balance budget for Montana. These decisions are not taken lightly as many of the bills are really good ideas that fill needs for the state but the fact is, we don’t have the money to fund all of them. Appropriations will be busy with hearings and tough decisions for the next short period as we are also up against time deadlines in our process.

If you have been looking at the schedule for the legislative days you are aware that we are listed as going into May before the 90 days are done. I believe there is no way we are going into May this session for a couple of major reasons. First and foremost, we lose many of our extra staff on May 1 as they return to their regular jobs. Functioning without this staff would be a very heavy lift.

The second reason to not go into May is the leases by many of the legislators end on April 30 and the landlords will be returning from their winter quarters in a warmer climate. There aren’t enough motel rooms to house all the legislators.

The third reason is the necessity to save some days if we need to come back for a special session. Saving days means we don’t use all the funding appropriation for the session saving many thousands of tax payer dollars. That will play out during the interim.

(Ken Holmlund represents House District 38 in the Montana House of Representatives. He can be contacted at Ken.holmlund@mtleg.gov or 406-951-6764)



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