April 24 - 28, 2023

Sunny Saturday session; interim planning (yes, already); soon-to-be-outdated updates

Today marks Legislative Day 84 and the end of the work week-- unless one’s place of work happens to be the Capitol. In these waning days of the 68th Legislative Session, dozens of puzzle pieces remain unplaced, with holes obfuscating the big picture. Members of the Senate will gavel in on Saturday to put a dent in the hours of work left to be completed on the floor, in standing committees, and in conference committees. The Saturday workday moves Legislative Day 90 to Friday, May 5.

Even before the regular session lurches to a halt, legislative staff and legislators have begun making plans for the interim, during which members serve on policy and budget committees that conduct studies and interact with assigned agencies. The MUS will work with the Education Interim Committee and the Section E Budget Interim Subcommittee during the 18-month period between sessions. The Senate Committee on Committees and the Speaker of the House appoint members and the Legislative Council assigns studies, with study priority determined by lawmakers in a post-session poll. None of the study resolutions remaining in the process name the MUS or OCHE as direct participants. OCHE will, however, keep tabs on SJR 26 which requests a review of how agencies handle public information requests. Several bills also include requirements that OCHE provide various reports to interim committees.

At this stage of the game, bill status can change several times a day. A midday Friday snapshot-in-time summary is below.

HB 2 (General Appropriations Act)
On Monday, the Senate adopted a handful of amendments and on Thursday voted 32-18 to concur in HB 2. The Appropriations Act as amended by the Senate returns now to the House for concurrence in or rejection of the Senate’s amendments. A vote to reject the Senate amendments will result in the creation of a conference committee to work through the differences. The MUS budget remains unchanged.

HB 5 (Long-range building appropriations)
The Senate made a couple changes to the version of HB 5 that came out of the Senate Finance and Claims Committee, then concurred in the bill on a 30-20 vote. The bill awaits 3rd Reading in the Senate and then will return to the House for consideration of the Senate amendments.

HB 10 (Long-range information technology financings and appropriations)
The $6.1 million appropriation in HB 10 for the MUS’s UM CyberMontana cybersecurity initiative remains intact and will not be subject to discussion by the conference committee appointed to work out differences in amendments. The conference committee meeting has not been scheduled.

HB 288 (Tuition waivers for native American students)
The Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee passed HB 288 out of committee last week on a 10-1 vote. The bill has since traveled a circuitous route through the Senate, ultimately landing in Finance and Claims where on Wednesday it was tabled on a 10-9 vote. It is unclear if an attempt will be made to revive the bill.

HB 517 (Constitutional amendment regarding Board of Regents)
The MUS has stood in strong opposition to HB 517 during its hearings in both chambers. Its Senate 3rd Reading vote last week failed to achieve the required number of total votes from both houses for the measure to be placed on the ballot. Early this week, the Senate voted to reconsider its action and rerefer the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it was amended and sent back to the floor. The Senate voted 27-23 to send its amended version back to the House. House consideration of the Senate amendments and House votes are imminent.

HB 749 (Revise Montana digital academy laws)
If enacted, HB 749 bill would require participation on the digital academy governing board by a member of the Board of Regents or a designee and would require detailed reporting to the Legislature’s interim Education policy and budget committees. After being tabled, the bill eventually came out of Senate Finance and Claims and awaits a final vote in the Senate today.

HB 797 (Requiring reports to the Office of Budget and Program Planning on information related to financial assistance to tribal entities)
HB 797 requires designated agencies, including OCHE, that have distributed funds to a tribal entity or received or retained funds related to a program that indirectly or directly provides financial assistance to a tribal entity to report that information to OBPP. This bill is through the process and being prepared for the Governor’s signature.

HB 944 (Establish the Montana in-demand skilled trades investment pilot program)
The Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee concurred in HB 944 on a 10-1 vote, but the measure on Wednesday was tabled in Senate Finance and Claims.

HB 946 (Implement provisions of HB 2 – Section E)
This bill, poised for a final Senate vote today, requires OCHE to report to the Education Interim Budget Committee on the funding provided to the tribal colleges for High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) preparation. An amendment added early this week requires OCHE to also report on “all existing collaborations, partnerships, contracts, donations, and contributions related to an entity or individual associated with a foreign country of concern.” This change is subject to approval by the House, and the bill’s House sponsor has expressed concern about the amendment.

HB 949 (Generally revise education laws related to data governance)
HB 949 would establish the Education and Workforce Data Governing Board and names the Commissioner of Higher Education or a designee as a member. The board’s duties would include developing policies for linking and sharing education and workforce data among the Office of Public Instruction, OCHE, and the Department of Labor and Industry “in order to maximize the operational efficiency of the state’s education and workforce systems.” The Senate Finance and Claims Committee tabled the bill, then took it from the table and amended it. The full Senate has yet to act on the amended measure.

HB 950 (Establish the Student and Administration Equality Act)
After passing the House on a 65-34 vote, HB 950 was referred to the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee which tabled the bill late last week. A Legal Review Note, prepared by the Legislative Services Division’s legal staff, discusses potential constitutional concerns associated with Article X, section 9(2) of the Montana Constitution.

SJ 26 (Interim study resolution on public record information requests)
If passed and assigned to an interim committee, SJ 26 would compel a study of the process through which state and local governments fulfill public information requests. The Senate will take a final vote on the resolution today and if it succeeds, transmit the study request to the House.


Time Served

Legislative Day: 84

Percent complete: 93.33%