The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

Halftime For Legislature

 


Hello to the Hi-Line from your Capitol in Helena.

The 64th Montana Legislature is at the halfway point. The easy work has been done and the hard decisions are before us. The House and Senate leadership are working together and await the Executive branch to join in.

There any many pieces to the puzzle, we would like them all to fit, but reality is, they will not.

We have proposed, through a series of healthcare bills, that will take care of the needy by “getting the right services to the right people.” We are trying to fill the poverty hole created by the Affordable Care Act. The bills focus on the most deserving and in need of help, while incentivising those who work below the poverty levels. We have proposed help for mental health by focusing on local community oriented assistance. Give the people help who need it and move the investment from the state bureaucracy to the local level.

The medicaid issue will not be solved to the satisfaction of all, nothing can be. We are developing a plan to reduce the medicare cuts that will come with further implementation of the federal health plan. Wyoming, a big state similar to ours, not a lot of people, dependent on natural resources, turned down medicaid expansion.

Last week in one of my committees, where we hear federal government relations, it was noted that almost 50% of the the $50 million federal dollars spent on low income housing and weatherization has been cut. This will leave those in need of this service without those dollars. We helped this program and those in need by moving $300K, from renewable energy, to help that program. Whether you agree with this or not, the real fact is that the federal government is in debt $18 trillion and must find ways to reduce expenditures. This one program and many more cuts are to come, so we must prepare. Remember, we receive $1.47 from the feds for every dollar we send them.

We passed HB 27, the school funding budget bill, $53M, to show our commitment to our local schools, and the governor has already signed this bill. Teachers are a very important part of the education process. Leadership must come from the administrators and local school boards so that we maintain the best education environment possible. We must make sure that the education dollars make it back to our local districts. Taxpayers, teachers, parents and students should be part of this equation.

Speaker Knudsen's bill, promoted by the eastern Montana oil, gas and coal counties, will help with the infrastructure impacts needed in eastern Montana. It would have been nice to have had this money two years ago, but the governor vetoed it. HB 402 will bring $55 million to local governments through grants for the needed infrastructure. A plan by eastern Montanan's for eastern Montana, not Helena. This bill is endorsed by the eastern Montana oil and gas counties and the Montana Association of County Commissioners.

The financial challenge is to only increase spending by 3 percent per year for the next two years, while maintaining a balanced budget. Eighty-eight percent of our spending is done before the legislative session begins. With the governor's and the legislature's budget not in agreement, there has to be concessions on both sides. The governor's desired checkbook balance is $300M. I believe we should be responsible with the checkbook, but that amount is too high and we need to remember that government does not increase revenues, only spends revenues. Our infrastructure needs a strong and viable financial legislative directive with support from the executive branch.

Some of the bills that I have been working on are: HB 414-helping county treasurers and out-of-state worker vehicle licensing; HB 306 - is a small change for state grazing district meetings; an appropriation for the rehabilitation of the ST. Mary irrigation project; an appropriation for the fuel research projects at Northern Montana College; HB 390-changing Montana code for Department of Ag, so that they can function properly when helping producers form an Ag advisory committee; HJR 11-a resolution to Congress and the President for the authorization of the Keystone XL Pipeline; defeating net metering bills that would have hindered Nor-Valley, Big Flat and Hill county electrical cooperatives; HB-578 will get the NE Montana Veterans Memorial at Fort Peck recognized and on the State map system.

Sen. Brenden is carrying the bill to have county commissioners involved with the authorization of MT Code 87-1-216, FWP relocating bison.

I have been involved with the bill process of keeping the sage grouse off the endangered species list in Montana by helping format HB 261, such that the legislature and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife will accept the plan. I do not like it, but feel it is the best alternative, because no one will stand up against the endangered species act. We must strive to protect private property rights and provide a process for businesses to function.

The second half of the session is when the House and the Senate get to see the respective bills from each chamber that were moved along in the process. Some will make it through to the governor's office and into law, but many will not.

You have the right and the duty to be involved with the issues as they affect you and your neighbor.

Congratulations to all the teams and individuals that competed in the district and state tournaments. Good luck to all who are competing in the divisional basketball tournaments.

In competition, there are winners and second place. The legislative process, while we may not like it, is similar.

Thanks for your support. I will be home next week for a few days, so let's chat.

 

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