Legislative Week in Review
February 13 - 17, 2023
Progress on MUS budget priorities; subcommittee recommendations move to full committee for more hearings; bill watch list grows
Week 7 of the session saw significant progress on top MUS priorities. On Wednesday, the Section E Appropriations Subcommittee recommended approval of the MUS budget, which includes nearly $450 million for the MUS education units, a substantial 14.6% increase for the Community Colleges, and an 8% increase for campus agencies.
The subcommittee also supported substantial funding for the MUS Sprint Degree and Seamless System initiatives, $2M and $3M, respectively, and added $1.4 million for the MUS One-Two-Free program where students may enroll in their first two dual enrollment courses, or up to six credits, tuition-free.
In addition to core MUS funding, the subcommittee recommended funding for the five research agencies within the system (Montana Agricultural Experiment Stations, Extension Services, Forestry and Conservation Experiment Station, Bureau of Mines and Geology, and Fire Services Training School). Specifically, the subcommittee approved healthy present law adjustments for each agency, and it converted one-time-only funding for the MAES Seed Lab, MAES Wool Lab, and MBMG Data Preservation Project to ongoing base funding for future legislative sessions. MAES also received support for an additional $300,000 in base funding.
On Thursday, the Section F Appropriations Committee acted on HB 5 – the Long-range building appropriations bill – and unanimously recommended over $200 million in historic investments for projects across the MUS. The approval included a swap of Lewis Hall at MSU in favor of funding for a “Statewide Educational Resources” facility (aka Gallatin College) at $23.5 million cash and $22.5 million authority, and $25 million for the Health and Recreation Complex (Aurora Complex) at MSU Northern. Finally, the Section F subcommittee approved $6,164,320 for the CyberMontana cybersecurity initiative at the University of Montana.
The Subcommittees’ actions on Section E and on Section F are recommendations to the full House Appropriations Committee, which will hold another round of hearings and discussions on the projects soon.
Updates and What to Watch
SR 32 – Confirm Governor’s appointee for Board of Regents of Higher Education
SR 32 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 03/15 in the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee.
SR 51 – Confirm Governor’s appointee for Board of Regents of Higher Education
SR 51 submits to the Senate Governor Gianforte’s appointment of Norris Blossom to the Board of Regents. Regent Blossom has served as the student regent since last summer. The hearing is scheduled for 03/15 in the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee.
SB 232 – Provide for deadlines to respond to public information requests
SB 232 requires a public agency to acknowledge receipt of requests for public information within 5 days of receiving the request, requires an agency to provide the requested information within 20 working days from the date the agency acknowledges receipt, provides for extension of the deadline, and allows a person to file an action in district court if an executive branch agency fails to meet the deadline. SB 232 has been assigned to the Senate State Administration Committee. A fiscal note was prepared for the bill, estimating an impact to the state General Fund of over $4 million each year of the biennium. Sen. Ellis did not sign the fiscal note, indicating disagreement with the note’s estimates. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.
SB 289 – Allow tuition waivers for qualified survivors of firefighters and peace officers
SB 289 expands tuition waivers to a surviving spouse or child of a person who meets the qualifications for a firefighter as provided in 7-33-4107, MCA. SB 289 is sponsored by Senator Friedel (R-Billings). The Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee held a hearing on 02/15 and has not yet acted on the measure.
HB 5 – Long-range building appropriations
As described above, the Section F Subcommittee took initial action on HB 5 this week and 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 $40 in supplemental funding. The Committee also approved $23.5M cash & $22.5M in authority for a “Statewide Educational Resources” facility (aka Gallatin College) and $25M cash for the Health and Recreation Complex (Aurora Complex) at MSU Northern.
HB 10 Long-range information technology financings and appropriations
HB 10 is reserved for financing of state information technology and capital projects. MUS projects are typically not included in HB 10. This session, 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.
HB 13 - State employee pay plan and revising laws governing state employees
Key provisions of HB 13 are:
- across-the-board pay increases in FY 2024 and FY 2025 of $1.50 per hour or 4% (whichever is greater) for state and university system employees;
- a one-time lump-sum payment to employees equivalent to 50 cents per hour in FY 2023; and
- an increase to the meal per diem rate for travel.
HB 13 is now in the Senate’s possession but has not yet been assigned a committee or scheduled for a hearing.
HB 31 – Generally revise laws related to academic brewers license
HB 31 would allow a unit of the MUS or a community college that is part of a community college district to apply for an academic brewers license. The bill has passed both houses and has been sent to enrolling, one of the final steps before reaching the Governor’s desk.
HB 185 – Increase appropriation to MSU Fire Service Training School
HB 185 proposes a $352,152 biennial appropriation and a $120,000 one-time-only appropriation to the MSU Extension Fire Service Training School to be used for increased staff resources, fire engine maintenance, and training. Senate Finance and Claims heard the bill on 02/13. Sen. Esp requested an amendment to reduce the biennial appropriation to $102,152. The committee has not yet acted on the amendment or the bill.
HB 197 – Constitutional amendment on article X, section 9
As noted in previous summaries, HB 197 is a referendum to amend the section of the Montana Constitution that vests the Board of Regents with the full authority to manage and control the Montana University System. As drafted, the bill aims to restrict the Board’s authority with respect to actions taken by the Legislature. The bill has been referred to House Judiciary, but the hearing has not been rescheduled.
HB 391 – Require local user fee on certain exempt property
HB 391 would require cities and counties to collect user fees from certain property owners that are currently exempt from state taxation, including educational institutions. The bill sponsor noted during a hearing last week that the bill is intended to apply to MUS property. On Friday, the House Taxation Committee unanimously tabled the bill.
HB 445 – Establishing mentoring program for new teachers
HB 445, sponsored by Representative Romano (D-Helena) would establish a statewide teacher mentoring program in the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education and sets forth specific programmatic requirements for teacher mentoring. The bill includes an appropriation of $1 million. The House Education Committee heard the bill on Monday and has not yet taken action.
HB 517 – Constitutional amendment regarding Board of Regents
HB 517 seeks to submit a referendum to amend the section of the Montana Constitution that vests the Board of Regents with the full authority to manage and control the Montana University System. The proposed amendment states that the legislature “may enact laws requiring the board of regents of higher education and units of the Montana university system to adopt and maintain policies and practices that protect the rights and associated civil liberties provided in the Montana constitution and those provided in the United States constitution.” It also provides “the board of regents of higher education and units of the Montana university system are not exempt from laws of general applicability.” HB 517 is sponsored by Rep. Hopkins (R-Missoula). It has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, and an initial hearing is expected in mid to late March.
Legislative Day: 35
Percent Complete: 38.89%