February 27 - March 3, 2023

Halftime but no marching band; brief respite before MUS budget hearings; updates and dates

It is said that no bill in the Legislature is ever really dead until the session adjourns sine die (“without a day”-- generally Day 90 or earlier if the Legislature has finished its business). There are myriad procedural maneuvers to revive bills that are stuck somewhere along the way, even after they may be considered terminal, and there is no rule that cannot be suspended with enough votes. But today, on Legislative Day 45, any general bill that has not been transmitted to the chamber other than the chamber in which it originated is considered, barring the execution of one of those procedural maneuvers, to have been voted off the island.

The 45th day marks the official halfway point of the 90-day legislative session, and it comes on the heels of marathon committee meetings and floor sessions in the House and Senate during which hundreds of bills were debated into the evening hours. The 45th day also marks the beginning of Transmittal Break during which most lawmakers and lobbyists head home (or to exotic locales such as Chico Hot Springs) to recuperate and prepare for the second half. Transmittal Break is March 4-8 on the official legislative calendar. The Senate will reconvene on March 9 and the House gavels back in on March 10.

While the break affords OCHE’s legislative team a bit of a breather, its focus turns now to taking stock of where the bills of interest to the MUS have landed, what might be their possible course through the second chamber, what remains to be introduced, and what lies in store for the MUS budget and building maintenance projects as the House Appropriations Committee gears up for hearings on HB 2 and HB 5.

MUS Budget Hearing Next Week

The House Appropriations Committee hears Section E of HB 2, which includes the MUS budget, on March 10, likely in the afternoon. The committee expects to conclude all HB 2 hearings and executive action on the budget by March 14, after which the bill is sent to the House Floor where each appropriation and each section is open for examination and debate by the full House. Any member may offer amendments at that time. This part of the process is likely to occur in late March or early April.

HB 5, which includes funding and authority for capital projects and maintenance, has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee and a hearing is scheduled for March 15.

Halftime Bill Roundup and Dates to Watch

Below are descriptions and the status of just some of the bills the OCHE legislative team has been monitoring. A few new proposals have also popped up on the team’s radar.

HB 2 – General Appropriations Act

The Joint Appropriations Subcommittee process has wrapped up and HB 2 has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee.

Dates to watch:
March 9 HB 2 hearings begin
March 10, HB 2 Section E hearing

HB 5 – Long-range building appropriations

HB 5 has been referred to House Appropriations. A hearing is scheduled for March 15.

Dates to watch:
March 15 hearing

HB 10 – Long-range information technology financings and appropriations

HB 10 has been referred to House Appropriations. The Section F Subcommittee adopted an amendment to appropriate $6,164,320 to UM through the MUS for CyberMontana cybersecurity initiative.

Dates to watch:
March 15 hearing

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.

Dates to watch:
No hearing scheduled

HB 20 – Provide appropriation for the MSU Local Government Center

HB 20 sought to appropriate $380,000 for the biennium for MSU-Extension’s Local Government Center. The bill was tabled in House Appropriations.

HB 31 - Generally revise laws related to academic brewers license

The bill allows any unit of the MUS or a community college to apply for an academic brewers license. Licenses are currently limited to MSU-Billings and FVCC. The bill awaits action from the Governor.

HB 151 Generally revise building construction procurement laws

HB 151 would revise state building construction procurement laws. Requested by the State Division of Architecture and Engineering, the bill would streamline and improve the process for campus building projects.

Dates to watch:
March 15 hearing in Senate State Administration

HB 185 Increase appropriation to MSU fire service training school

As amended, HB 185 would provide $102,152 from the general fund to the MUS for each fiscal year in the biennium beginning July 1, 2023, to fund the fire services training school through MSU-Extension. Senate Finance and Claims concurred and further action is expected soon.

HB 197  – Constitutional amendment on article X, section 9

HB 197 is a referendum to amend Art. X, Section 9 of the Montana Constitution, which vests the Board of Regents with the full authority to manage and control the MUS. The bill was referred to House Judiciary.

Dates to watch:
No hearing scheduled
April 3 deadline for bills proposing referenda to be transmitted to other chamber

HB 257 – Revise education laws related to advanced opportunities program

As drafted, HB 257 would expand “personalized learning opportunities for students to accelerate their career and college readiness and reduce out-of-pocket costs for families.” According to the sponsor, 62 districts currently participate in the program that provides funding for out-of-pocket costs for students pursuing an internship, apprenticeship, or other learning opportunity in high school. The bill would appropriate $4 million to OPI to expand the program.

Dates to watch:
Bill in possession of Senate but no hearing scheduled

HB 288 – Revises laws related to tuition waivers for American Indian students

HB 288 proposes to expand tuition waivers for American Indian students. The bill was tabled in the House Education Committee but was reconsidered and passed out of committee on February 24 with an amendment. As amended, HB 288 would remove the ¼ blood quantum requirement and expand the waiver to descendants of Indian tribes located within the boundaries of the state. HB 288 passed second reading in the House (62-37) and has been referred to House Appropriations for further consideration. 

Dates to watch:
No hearing scheduled

HB 361 Provides that use of a name and sex by a student is not discrimination

HB 361 would revise 49-2-307, MCA which prohibits unlawful discriminatory practices by educational institutions to provide that it is “not an unlawful discriminatory practice for a student to: (a) call another student by the student's legal name; or (b) refer to another student by the student's sex.” HB 361 passed the House (66-32) and has been referred to the Senate.

Dates to watch:
No hearing scheduled

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 stated the bill would apply to MUS. The bill was tabled in committee on February 17.

HB 424 – Generally revise sustainability of state finance and provide for transfers

Among other things, HB 424 provides a onetime transfer of $18 million to OCHE by June 30, 2023, as part of the overall package to implement the state pay plan. A hearing was held in House Appropriations on February 13.

HB 445 – Establishing mentoring program for new teachers

HB 445 would establish a statewide teacher mentoring program at OCHE and set forth specific programmatic requirements for teacher mentoring. The bill would appropriate $1 million to OCHE to implement the program. The House Education Committee heard the bill on February 27.

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 House passed the bill on second reading (96-4) and it was rereferred to House Appropriations. 

Dates to watch:
March 14 hearing

HB 496 Provide for health care preceptor individual income tax credit

On February 28, House Taxation held a hearing on HB 496 to provide a preceptor of a student in an eligible health care program a $1,000 tax credit for each clinical rotation up to $5,000. Action on the bill is not expected until after transmittal.  

HB 516 Generally revise criminal laws related to hazing

HB 516 proposed to create a new statute prohibiting hazing by students or members of a fraternity or sorority or other social organizations operating on or near a college campus. Persons convicted of the offense would be required to complete 40-200 hours of community service. The bill was tabled in House Judiciary.

HB 517 – Constitutional amendment regarding Board of Regents

As proposed, the amendment would add language to Art. X, section IX of the Montana Constitution that would allow the legislature to require the board of regents to adopt policies that “protect the rights and associated civil liberties provided in the Montana constitution and those provided in the United States constitution.” It would also add that “the board of regents of higher education and units of the Montana university system are not exempt from laws of general applicability.” HB 517 was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Dates to watch:
Late March hearing; not scheduled
April 3 deadline for bills proposing referenda to be transmitted to other chamber

HB 531 – Establish annual combined meeting of the board of education

HB 531 reduces the number of required meetings between the Board of Regents and the Board of Public Education. HB 531 proposes to require annual meetings and does not preclude meetings to be called as necessary. The bill passed the House 99-0 and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

HB 715 Revise school immunization laws

HB 715 would revise notification laws related to required immunizations and available exemptions and remove the penalty for false swearing for religious exemptions. The bill also proposed to strike language allowing the governing authority of a postsecondary institution to, as a condition of attendance, adopt immunization requirements that are more stringent than those required in statute. Following a hearing, the bill was amended to restore this language. The bill passed the House on March 3.

HB 749 Revise Montana digital academy laws

HB 749 revises laws for the Montana Digital Academy, which is housed at the University of Montana. The bill would expand instructional opportunities for part-time students and would authorize out-of-state instructors. The bill also revises the makeup of the Digital Academy’s governing board, creating nonvoting seats for a member of the House and Senate and a licensed teacher, and establish the legislative appointee as the presiding officer of the board. HB 749 also establishes a clearinghouse “to provide additional choice and flexibility to build local capacity for serving pupils with remote instruction courses, models, and materials.” The bill would appropriate $950,000 to OCHE for each year of the biennium for the Montana Digital Academy. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Dates to watch:
Hearing not scheduled

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.

Dates to watch:
March 15 hearing in 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. 

Dates to watch:
March 15 hearing in Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee

SB 232 – Provide for deadlines to respond to public information requests

SB 232 would establish deadlines for public agencies to acknowledge receipt of and provide response to requests for public information. A fiscal note prepared for the original bill estimated an impact to the state General Fund of over $4 million each year of the biennium. The Senate State Administration Committee heard the bill, amended it significantly, and passed it out of committee on a 10-0 vote. A revised fiscal note, reflecting the amendments, indicated no cost to agencies. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and has been transmitted to the House.

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 made a minor revision to the bill and sent it to the Senate floor on a vote of 11-0. It easily passed the Senate and has been transmitted to the House.

Session Stats

  • Bills requested: 4,622
  • Bills Introduced: 1,413
  • Bills signed by Governor: 36
  • Bills probably dead: 124
  • Bills transmitted to second house: 468
  • Bills being monitored by OCHE: 361

Time Served

Legislative Day: 45

Percent Complete: 50.00%