March 13 - March 17, 2023

One way to look at the legislature and its associated processes is as a giant machine that gets cranked up after sitting in someone’s barn for two years. It’s a little slow getting going, but reliably starts and predictably begins running on all cylinders within a week or two. By week 11, the gears are well-oiled and in legislative process parlance, that means many of the leviathan funding bills are moving through committees and on to debate by the full House and Senate. As with every state entity, the funding bills are critical to the MUS, but there also remain to be heard and decided measures with the potential to significantly impact the system, students, and staff. The OCHE legislative team therefore remains vigilant.

While nearly every bill shepherded through the legislative session is important to somebody and many have far-reaching, life-changing impacts, when it comes to scale, there is House Bill 2 and then there is everything else. HB 2, the General Appropriations Act, funds government operations for a two-year cycle, and passage of a balanced budget is a Constitutionally required duty of the legislature.

The legislature’s work on a newly hatched HB 2 begins early in the session in subject matter-specific subcommittees, which hold hearings with assigned agencies and develop recommended changes to the agency budgets. After weeks of deliberations, the subcommittees bring their recommendations to the full House Appropriations Committee which again holds hearings, accepts public comment, considers amendments, and acts on the bill. This week, HB 2 fled the nest, and will appear next week on the House floor for consideration by the full body. The House has tentatively scheduled HB 2 for a day-long floor session on March 22. As always, however, schedules and plans remain subject to change.

Changes to the MUS’s budget recommended by the Section E Subcommittee and approved by the full Appropriations Committee included:

  • Addition of One-Time-Only funds for the Seamless System Initiative, the Sprint Degree Initiative, and the One-Two-Free Program; and
  • An increase in funding for the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station and MSU Extension for precision agriculture program staffing and research.

HB 5 and HB 10 heard, remain in Committee
HB 5, the Long-range building appropriations bill, and HB 10, the Long-range information technology financing and appropriation bill were also heard in House Appropriations. HB 5 came into the Committee with recommended approval of all MUS projects included in the executive’s budget. In total the subcommittee recommended $130M in capital projects, $25M in major repairs, and $40M in supplemental funding. The Subcommittee also recommended approval of $23.5M cash & $22.5M in authority for Gallatin College and $25M cash for the Health and Recreation Complex (Aurora Complex) at MSU Northern.

HB 10 is reserved for financing of state information technology and capital projects. MUS projects are typically not included in HB 10. This session, however, the Section F subcommittee adopted an amendment to appropriate $6,164,320 to UM through the MUS for CyberMontana cybersecurity initiative. The amendment would require UM to submit a project and security plan to the state’s CIO before funds could be released.

As of Friday afternoon, the Committee had not yet acted on either measure.

HB 517 Heard
On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on HB 517, a referendum to revise the Board of Regents' authority to manage the university system. As proposed, the amendment would revise Art. X, section IX of the Montana Constitution to require the board of regents to adopt policies that “protect the rights and associated civil liberties provided in the Montana constitution and those provided in the United States constitution.” It would also add that “the board of regents of higher education and units of the Montana university system are not exempt from laws of general applicability.” The university system, student lobbyists and other groups opposed the measure. Committee action is expected next week. If passed and approved by 100 members of the legislature, the measure will be placed on the 2024 ballot for a vote.

Regent Confirmation Hearings
On Wednesday, the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee held confirmation hearings for Regents Jeff Southworth and Norris Blossom. The Committee did not take immediate action on the resolutions but is expected to do so soon. The final step is debate and an affirmative confirmation by the full Senate.

Time Served

Legislative Day: 52

Percent Complete: 57.78%