Helena, Montana – Legislators in Montana went from approving significant bills to closing their offices and returning to their homes throughout the state in less than 24 hours.
After 87 days of confronting significant topics and a significant number of measures, the 68th session of the Montana Legislature came to an end late on Tuesday. A total of 1,698 pieces of legislation were introduced, and 748 of them made it through the Legislature, according to data from the state’s Legislative Services Division.
After an unanticipated sine die motion, the Senate adjourned Tuesday afternoon. The primary state budget bill, House Bill 2, which allocates $14 billion in expenditures over the next two years, was completed that evening, and the House adjourned.
Republican leaders said they were proud of what they did throughout the session. Republicans held a two-thirds supermajority in both the House and the Senate.
The state budget was a major topic of discussion during the 68th session, especially how to allocate the more than $2 billion surplus the state had at the beginning of the year.
Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, the speaker of the House, and the other members of the Republican leadership group held a news conference on Wednesday. They highlighted a package of large tax breaks and long-term tax reductions; measures supporting educational choice, such as legislation encouraging the growth of charter schools; and legislation on sensitive topics, such as gender transition and obscenity, which they claimed were aimed at “protecting Montana children.”
“We appreciate the people from this great state of Montana for sending us here and putting your trust in us, the Republican supermajority,” said Regier. “We came into this session unified behind a set of policy principles, which I’m proud to say that we have accomplished.”
Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, the Senate’s president, also emphasized the funds returned to Montana taxpayers and the investments that legislators made in things like infrastructure and mental health care. Additionally, he mentioned bills that would alter zoning and other policies in addition to investing money to promote housing development.
“I think all of those things – and they are not little subjects, they are huge subjects – we had not just baby steps, but giant leaps and bounds,” Ellsworth said.
Democratic leaders described it as a difficult session leading a “superminority” in remarks made at their own news conference on Wednesday morning. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, and House Minority Leader Rep. Kim Abbott, D-Helena, both expressed their pride in what they were able to accomplish but noted that most of the session was spent opposing what they perceived as Republican overreach.
“When I think about what we accomplished with just 32 members, I’m incredibly proud, and when I think of what we were able to defend against on the floor every day, the attacks against families and children, I’m incredibly proud of the work we did,” Abbott said. “Now, of course, we weren’t able to defend against all of it.”
They emphasized changes to HB 2 that would raise Medicaid provider reimbursement rates as well as the fact that no constitutional amendment ideas garnered enough support to go on the ballot the next year. However, they felt that the Legislature had not done enough to help renters who were having trouble paying their rent or to offer long-term property tax relief.
While lawmakers are temporarily leaving Helena, they will return to the Capitol this summer for meetings of interim committees. A bill that would shift those committees from having a balanced representation of Republicans and Democrats to having more members from the majority party was approved by the legislature.
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