HELENA — Every two years, after the Montana Legislature holds its session, many of the new laws they pass go into effect the following July 1 – and this year is no exception.
In Montana, July 1 is the start of the state fiscal year and the first day of the year for school calendars, so it’s often an important date in budget- and education-related measures.
This year, two major charter school bills took effect on July 1. House Bill 549 gives local school districts the first chance to create a charter, but lets independent schools come in if they don’t take that option. Charter schools under that law would have regulations more similar to the existing public school system.
House Bill 562 sets up a new system for approving and establishing “community choice schools,” which would operate more autonomously from the existing system and have exemptions from many of the requirements for traditional public schools. A lawsuit challenging HB 562 as unconstitutional is currently active in a district court in Lewis and Clark County.
Starting July 1, any newly hired sheriff’s deputies and Montana Highway Patrol troopers will have to work 20 years and reach the age of 50 before they can start drawing their pensions. Law enforcement officers who joined those pension systems prior to July 1 only needed to work 20 years to be eligible for retirement benefits. The change is part of House Bill 569, a broader reform aimed at stabilizing those systems and addressing unfunded pension liability.
Many budget transfers and appropriations were completed on or by July 1, allowing a number of new programs and existing grant programs to move forward. Among those is a new “sexual assault response network” under the Montana Department of Justice, created by House Bill 79, which will focus on improving access to nurse examiners trained in responding to sexual assault cases.
The department will also administer a new grant program to provide training opportunities for community-based missing person response teams. That program, part of the ongoing response to the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous people, was created through House Bill 18.
Since July 1, an additional yearly fee is now in effect on electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids in Montana. House Bill 60 established a fee of $130 for EVs under 6,000 pounds – the most common in the state so far – and $70 for hybrids of that size. Larger vehicles will have higher fees. The money will go toward highway and road maintenance, like the gas tax that drivers of combustion-engine vehicles pay.
Finally, while it already got a ceremonial signing in May, the law that established the huckleberry as Montana’s state fruit only officially went into effect on July 1.