May 1 - 5, 2023

Spoiler Alert: Adjournment!; MUS with solid budget; work ahead to implement policy bills

Catching more than a few observers and some Very Important Participants off-guard, on May 2, the 68th Montana Legislature, each chamber in its own way, adjourned sine die. As the House and Senate were busy tying up loose ends, holding floor debates and final votes, and considering Governor’s amendments and conference committee reports, Senate Minority Leader Pat Flowers (D-Bozeman), made the motion to adjourn, commenting later “I just felt like we no longer had anything to gain for Montanans or for our constituents by being here any longer.” Ten Republicans joined all Senate Democrats in passing the motion 26-24.  After several more hours, some procedural and strategic adjustments, and a necessary 3rd Reading concurrence in the Senate’s amendments to HB 2, the House followed suit, 88-8.

Any bills still in the process, awaiting committee or floor action--including a few that would have had significant impacts on the MUS—met their demise with the votes to adjourn.


The MUS budget and the funding and authority for capital repair and development projects withstood the scrutiny of all 150 lawmakers and the turbulence of dozens of votes as HB 2 and HB 5 wended their way through their usual labyrinthine processes.

Through HB 5, the Legislature authorized:

  • just over $35 million for 28 major repair projects across MUS campuses and agencies;
  • $7.7 million in supplemental funding for major repair projects authorized last session;
  • $139 million for 9 capital development projects; and
  • over $200 million in spending authority only (not state funding) for 9 projects.

The Board of Regents will consider approval to proceed with the major repair projects authorized by the Legislature, and each project will be presented separately to the Board when the projects are in the design and planning stage.

HB 2 fully funded the MUS’s budget for the upcoming biennium, including one-time-only appropriations for the Seamless System Initiative, the MUS Sprint Degree program, and the One-Two-Free program.

In addition, HB 10 was enacted including an appropriation of $6.1 million for the MUS/UM CyberMontana Cybersecurity Initiative.


Below is a summary of other bills of interest to the MUS that OCHE’s bill tracking team has followed throughout the session and, in some cases, their final disposition. Some, though they have passed both chambers, have not yet been signed by legislative leadership or the Governor.

SB 70 (Revise the Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program)
SB 70 removes the requirements for a qualifying educator to be teaching in a critical quality educator shortage area for the purposes of the Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program.

Status: Signed by Governor; Effective April 24, 2023.

SB 232 (Provide for deadlines to respond to public information requests)
SB 232 requires an agency to respond to a public information request by acknowledging receipt of the request within 5 days of the agency’s designated contact person having received the request. It also r
equires the agency to provide the information within 5 days if the request is for a single specific, readily available public record. For other information, the agency shall provide an estimated timeline for fulfilling the request and any fees that may be charged. The bill imposes additional timelines and requirements for agencies in responding to public information requests and in making available information about the agency’s public request process.

Status: Signed by Governor; Effective May 4, 2023.

SB 289 (Allow tuition waivers for qualified survivors of firefighters and police officers)
SB 289 allows the Board of Regents to waive tuition and fees for surviving spouses and children of Montana firefighters or peace officers who died in the line of duty. Previously, Section 20-25-421 allowed the Board to waive tuition only.

Status: Signed by Governor; Effective October 1, 2023.

SB 480 (Remove opt-in requirement for student contact information on ACT test)  
SB 480 removes from law the requirement that students opt in to sharing information with postsecondary institutions and scholarship organizations as part of statewide assessments that are also used for college entrance examinations. The bill states that the legislature intends the release of the information to be for the sole purpose of increasing awareness of and access to postsecondary opportunities for students.

Status: Signed by Governor; Effective October 1, 2023.

HB 31 (Generally revise laws related to academic brewer license)
The bill allows a unit of the MUS or a Montana community college that is part of a community college district the ability to apply for an academic brewer license.

Status: Signed by Governor; Effective March 16, 2023.

HB 133 (Allow nonresident college students to purchase FWP licenses online)
HB 133 removes the requirement that nonresident college students apply for a license in-person at a FWP office.

Status: Signed by Governor; Effective March 16, 2023.

HB 140 (Establishing modernization and risk analysis committee)
HB 140 creates a bipartisan committee to study long-term future budget and revenue needs of the state in light of changing economics and demographics. Among the duties of the committee is to “use available data and analytical resources to study the past, present, and future costs and revenues of all state and local government entities” and other policy areas, including higher education. The bill is being prepared for signatures by the Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, and the Governor.

Status: Enrolled

HB 185 (Increase appropriation to MSU Fire Services Training School)  
HB 185 appropriates $352,152 from the general fund to the MUS for each fiscal year in the biennium to fund the MSU-Extension’s Fire Services Training School. This appropriation is considered part of the ongoing base. The bill also appropriates for the school $120,000 in one-time-only funds for the biennium. The money is intendedto be used for an increase in training staff capacity, fire engine maintenance, and training materials.

Status: Enrolled

HB 288 (Tuition waivers for Native American students)
After progressing through the House and one committee in the Senate, the Senate Finance and Claims Committee tabled HB 288 on April 26.

Status: Dead

HB 367 (Providing clarification for use of federal funds for data modernization)  
HB 367 requires that federal funds for data modernization received by the Office of Public Instruction be used to facilitate use of data by school districts, community colleges, and the MUS “to improve individual student outcomes and periodically evaluate student academic performance.” In addition, the bill requires that the federal funds be applied toward the secure sharing of data among the OPI, the MUS, OCHE, and the Department of Labor and Industry.

Status: Signed by Governor; Effective May 3, 2023

HB 517 (Constitutional amendment regarding Board of Regents)
The MUS stood in strong opposition to HB 517 during its hearings in both chambers. Its Senate 3rd Reading vote failed to achieve the required number of total votes from both houses for the measure to be placed on the ballot. The Senate then 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, but the bill was not transmitted and failed in process.

Status: Dead

HB 749 (Revise Montana digital academy laws)
HB 749 requires participation on the digital academy governing board by a member of the Board of Regents or a designee and requires detailed reporting to the Legislature’s interim Education policy and budget committees. After having been tabled, the bill emerged from the Senate Finance and Claims Committee and passed the Senate on a 36-13 vote. It awaits the signatures of the Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, and the Governor.

Status: Enrolled

HB 797 (Require agency reporting on financial assistance to tribes)
HB 797 requires designated agencies, including OCHE, that have distributed funds to a tribal entity or has 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.

Status: Enrolled

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 April 26 was tabled in Senate Finance and Claims.

Status: Dead

HB 946 (Implement provisions of HB 2 – Section E)
HB 946 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 last week also requires OCHE to report three separate times to the interim budget committee on “all existing collaborations, partnerships, contracts, donations, and contributions related to an entity or individual associated with a foreign country of concern.” The bill as amended is being prepared for the signatures of the Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, and the Governor.

Status: In Enrolling

HB 949 (Generally revise education laws related to data governance)
HB 949 establishes the Education and Workforce Data Governing Board, naming as a member the Commissioner of Higher Education or a designee. The board’s duties 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 Senate and House both concurred in the amended version and the bill is being prepared for the signatures of the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate and the Governor.

Status: In Enrolling

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 on April 21. 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.

Status: Dead


Time Served

Legislative Day: 90
Percent Complete: 100%
Status: On Parole until 2025