March 27 - March 31

Referendum deadlines near; House approves MUS capital projects; Spending bills await senate consideration.

Week 13 of the session is nearly complete as the legislature scrambles to meet next week’s deadline for the transmittal of appropriations bills, revenue bills (bills increasing or decreasing spending), and referendums for consideration by voters.

On Monday, the full House will likely consider several proposed referendums to amend the Montana Constitution. One of those bills – HB 517 – would impact the Board of Regents authority to fully manage the Montana University System. As a constitutional referendum, the bill will need the support of 100 legislators to be placed on the ballot for consideration by voters in November 2024.

Bills proposing to amend the constitution move from one chamber to the other if it’s mathematically possible to reach 100 votes. For example, if 50 members of the House vote in favor of HB 517, it will move to the Senate for further consideration. Conversely, a constitutional referendum receiving only one vote in the Senate will move to the House.

HB 2 – General Appropriations Act
The state’s largest spending bill, which includes nearly $450 million for the MUS educational units, is awaiting consideration in Senate Finance and Claims. A first hearing is likely to be scheduled the first week in April. From there, and following any amendments, the bill will be considered by the full senate before further action, either in the other chamber or in a conference committee.

HB 5 – Long-range building appropriations
Earlier this week, the full House authorized $1.7 in spending for state and local infrastructure projects, including funding for the MUS major repair and capital projects. No changes to MUS projects were adopted on the House floor.

HB 10 – Long-range information technology financings and appropriations
House Bill 10, which would provide $6,164.320 to the MUS/University of Montana for CyberMontana at the University of Montana remains in play. The bill has passed the House and is awaiting a first hearing in Senate Finance and Claims.

HB 288 – Revise laws related to tuition waivers for American Indian students
HB 288 has passed out of House Appropriations and is set for consideration by the full House this afternoon. The bill removes the blood quantum requirement for the waiver and would apply to “enrolled members or descendants of a federally recognized Indian tribe located within the boundaries of state of Montana,” provided the individual has been a resident of Montana for at least one year prior to enrollment. As amended this week, the bill provides for each tribe to establish a process for certification of descendancy.

HB 482 – Provide access to education and supports for children aging out of foster care
HB 482 would establish a Montana foster youth higher education assistance program administered by the Board of Regents through OCHE for the purpose of “helping youth who have aged out of the foster care system meet their educational, vocational, and professional goals without accruing debt.” The bill does not include an appropriation to administer or fund the program. The Senate Education committee will hear the bill on April 3.

HB 496 – Provide for health care preceptor individual income tax credit
The bill passed out of the House Taxation Committee earlier this month and was expanded to preceptors who are pharmacists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists. The bill has passed the house (54-43) and is headed to the Senate for consideration.

HB 944 – Establish the Montana in-demand skilled trades investment pilot program
HB 944, introduced late in the session, proposes to establish an in-demand skilled trades investment pilot project that would be administered by OCHE. The bill seeks to strengthen career and technical education pipelines to ensure a skilled workforce in trades. The bill is headed to the House floor for consideration.

HB 950 – Establish the Student and Administration Equality Act
Yesterday, the House Judiciary committee approved a bill that would substantially revise student conduct and disciplinary proceedings on campus. The bill is based on out-of-state model legislation and awaits consideration by the full house. The Legislative Service Division issued a Legal Review Note on the bill.

HB 833 – Establish teacher residency program
Establishes a teacher residency program at the Office of Public instruction in conjunction with school districts and the professional educator prep programs. The bill is awaiting consideration by the full House.