Here are some topics we’re sure to see from this year’s state legislative session starting on Jan. 5th.
Governor Steve Bullock is still looking to get health care for the state’s 70,000 lowest-income members. Last session, he tried to expand Medicaid, but Republican members blocked it.
This time, however, he’ll be promoting something called “Healthy Montana,” which is an alternative meant to use federal dollars to contract with a private insurer for negotiated rates.
Attorney General Tim Fox
E-cigarettes are now so popular, Attorney General Tim Fox wants the state to start regulating them, including possible bans for minors.
Fox is also looking to create a new “sexual assault prosecution unit,” which would work to train county attorneys how to handle sexual assault cases, both in prosecution and how to address the victims, themselves.
There is also a push from legislators to change the interstate speed limit from 75 to 80 miles per hour but critics are concerned about safety.
Calling education “our greatest priority,” Governor Steve Bullock wants $37 million to help create or expand voluntary pre-K programs to give Montana 4-year-olds a head start on school.
Expect significant pushback from the Republican-held House and Senate.
Also on the docket are “school choice” bills aimed at giving state money to private schools if an individual taxpayer so desires.
However, the ACLU and MEA-MFT are both voicing strong opposition to this option.
Speaking of high schools, There is also a proposal to raise the high school dropout age from 16 to 18, but it would require more funding to keep that many students at school.
Moving on to college, the Governor and Montana’s commissioner of higher education hope to freeze tuition again to help keep college costs down.
It’s time for property tax evaluations, which comes once every six years, or 3 sessions. Usually, the arguments surround how to keep taxes low for people who live in an area with increased property values.
However, most property values dropped in the state, with an average decline of 2.85 percent. While property in Montana’s oil-producing counties continued increasing, it dropped most other places.
Speaking of oil country, last session, Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed additional tax money to help fund infrastructure in Eastern Montana’s oil fields.
The Montana League of Cities and towns said they will lobby for a special tax in the oil fields to bring in more funding this year.
However, with falling oil prices, there may not as many people traveling to that area of the state, making prolonged funding difficult.
This legislative news update is brought to you by the Greater Montana Foundation, the Montana Broadcasters’ Association, and the University of Montana School of Journalism.