Ideas become bills; tracking continues apace; shared policy goals discussed; decisions, decisions

Week 4 of the 68th Montana Legislature has drawn to a close with a record-setting collection of 4,577 requested bills, 647 introduced bills, and hundreds of proposals in House and Senate committees going through their paces under the snowy Capitol dome. Limited categories of bills may still be requested, but with the deadlines for most bill requests having come and gone, the vast majority of new, recycled, refurbished, and resurrected ideas await drafting and their turn in the hopper.

The OCHE team tasked with monitoring the Legislature reviews daily the progress of 334 bills. The group not only tracks hearing schedules, but regularly cycles through the requests that have not yet been drafted to spot any changes to a request’s short title that may provide clues to a bill’s intent or policy direction. As more of that information becomes clear, the team will remove from the tracking list bills that do not have the potential to impact the MUS, allowing for more concentrated focus on proposals that are likely to affect the system’s budget, students, employees, administrative duties, or facilities or that may either enhance or detract from the mission of the MUS, which is firmly held at the center of all of the system’s legislative efforts.

Section E Joint Subcommittee Work Session
On Wednesday, the subcommittee held a work session to discuss with MUS shared policy goals and accountability measures. The subcommittee expressed interest in expanding several ongoing efforts, including streamlining transfer options from Tribal Colleges to MUS institutions, expanding American Indian language programs, growing proficiency-based education training within MUS educator prep programs, and ensuring all students receive financial literacy training. Further discussion of the shared policy goals will occur after the legislature’s transmittal break in March.

Update and What to Watch
HB 2 – General Appropriations Act
The Section E Joint Subcommittee plans a work session on Monday, January 30, on the MUS’s portion of the Executive Budget. The Subcommittee will consider proposed adjustments, known as “decision packages”, to Section E of HB 2.

HB 5 – Long-Range Building appropriations
HB 5 is the vehicle through which MUS’s and other agencies’ major repair and capital projects are funded and spending authority for projects is granted. The MUS and OCHE detailed for the LRBP subcommittee the system’s proposed projects on 01/26. The LRBP subcommittee plans to act on the bill in early February.

HB 13- State Pay Plan
Late Friday afternoon, the House Appropriations committee passed HB 13 by a wide margin (17-6 vote), sending the bill to the full House for consideration. The bill implements a pre-session agreement between the state and public employee unions that increases wages and provides one-time payments for the 2024-2025 biennium. The bill had one technical amendment that corrected a calculation error, but the amendment did not impact the substance of the bill.

HB 20 – Provide appropriation for the MSU Local Government Center
This bill sought to appropriate $380,000 for the biennium to the MUS for the MSU-Extension’s Local Government Center. The bill passed the House on a vote of 54-45 and, like most bills providing an appropriation, was sent to the House Appropriations Committee for another hearing on 01/27. The committee tabled in the bill in executive action.

HB 31 - Generally revise laws related to academic brewers license
The bill would allow a unit of the MUS or community college that is part of a community college district the ability to apply for an academic brewers license. The bill has cleared the House and is scheduled for a Senate committee hearing on 01/27. The bill passed out of committee and heads next to the Senate floor.

HB 288 – Revise laws related to tuition waivers for American Indian students
HB 288 changes the language in the section of the Montana Code Annotated that allows the Board of Regents to waive tuition and fees for American Indian students. It revises qualifications for a waiver to those who are “enrolled members or descendants of a federally recognized Indian tribe.” In addition, the person would no longer be required to be from a tribe located within Montana to be eligible. The bill had its first hearing on 01/27. A fiscal note for HB 288 is available online.

SR 32 – Confirm Governor’s appointee for Board of Regents of Higher Education
The Senate this week scheduled a hearing for SR 32, which submits to the Senate Governor Gianforte’s appointment of Jeff Southworth to the Board of Regents. Regent Southworth has served on the Board since 2022. The hearing is scheduled for mid-March.

Time Served
Legislative Day: 20

Percent Complete: 20.22%