HELENA — At the Montana State Capitol, things are quiet for now. Lawmakers are on their way home for the transmittal break, after completing the first half of the Montana Legislature’s 68th session.
On Friday morning – the 45th legislative day – the House spent about 30 minutes taking final votes on 71 bills that needed to pass by the end of the day in order to survive. The Senate finished its last votes late Thursday evening.
“Everyone’s a little tired; we need a break,” said Sen. Ken Bogner, R-Miles City, the Senate president pro tem. “We’re going to rest up and come back next week and hit the ground running.”
One of the top accomplishments majority Republicans have touted is the early passage of a package of budget and tax bills, now on its way to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk. The six bills – linked together by coordinating language – would distribute roughly $1 billion of the state budget surplus and include income and property tax rebates, increasing exemptions for the business equipment tax, paying off state debt and investing in road and bridge projects.
“Montanans sent the Republican supermajority to Helena this session, and we are delivering to our constituents the income and property tax rebates that they deserve,” said House Speaker Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, during a news conference after the House adjourned for transmittal.
Regier and other GOP leaders in the House also highlighted other priority bills that advanced, including two proposals for establishing charter schools, a series of bills to tighten abortion restrictions, and legislation on regulating "obscene content" in the state.
“The House understands that Montana’s become a state for families fleeing from woke extremism,” Regier said.
Bogner said Senate Republicans are proud of advancing bills that revise zoning, encourage housing development, and support data privacy.
“We’ve gotten a lot of things accomplished here in the first half that we’re really excited about, and we’re ready to come back here after the break and get to it,” he said.
Leaders from the Democratic minority held their own news conference Friday, where they again expressed concern that the GOP was moving too quickly on the tax and budget package. Throughout the session, they’ve said the proposals would favor wealthier Montanans and that the Legislature should wait to take such extensive budget action.
“Wait until we have a plan to invest in our communities, invest now in the problems that we're seeing, invest in Montana families – and get out of here with a budget that makes sense, get out of here with tax relief that makes sense and is actually targeted at the people who need it, and putting some money away,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Kim Abbott, D-Helena.
Democrats said they had been able to work across the aisle on issues like supporting Medicaid reimbursement increases for health care providers and opposing bills that would have restricted union activity. On other issues, though, they said Republicans were going in the wrong direction.
“They keep flexing and flexing and flexing their majority,” said Senate Minority Leader Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade. “They can – there's no question they can do that. Is that good government? No, it is an echo chamber.”
There’s still a lot to be decided in the second half of the session. While there may be fewer active bills, the ones at issue will often be larger – especially those dealing with the budget.
During a news conference Thursday, Gianforte urged lawmakers to keep working for Montanans’ priorities in the coming 45 legislative days.
“I'm optimistic about what we've accomplished together – both Republicans and Democrats – in the first half of this legislative session, but there's clearly more work to do,” he said.
Some legislative work will be happening Thursday of next week, but it’ll be a few days for the Legislature to ramp back up to full-scale action. MTN will continue to have complete coverage of all the work at the Capitol.