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GOP majority expands special session on budget, transgender issues

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House Speaker Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, and GOP leadership Tuesday at the Capitol House Speaker Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, and GOP leadership Tuesday at the Capitol
HELENA -

Republicans used their majority power Tuesday to expand the agenda at the Montana Legislature’s special session on the state budget – including a bill to essentially block a Bullock administration rule making it easier for transgender citizens to change their gender status on birth certificates.

As expected, GOP lawmakers expanded the session to include a half-dozen additional budget- and health-care-related items they outlined earlier this week, such as extending the state’s 2.75 percent health-insurance premium tax to additional companies and an extension of a private-prison contract.

Republican leaders said they wanted more options on the table to balance the state budget, which faces a $227 million shortfall.

Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, last week called lawmakers into special session starting Tuesday, to approve budget transfers and tax increases to help fill the budget hole. He set an agenda that included his own proposals; the expansion adds the other options.

But, through petitions and votes on the House and Senate floors Tuesday, Republicans also added four other items to the agenda:

  • A bill requiring furloughs of state employees.
  • A bill to eliminate income-tax credits, to increase revenue to help balance the budget.
  • Transferring a portion of the budget of the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder to help balance the budget.
  • A bill that says gender on a birth certificate can be changed only by a court order indicating the person's sex has been changed by "surgical procedure. The state Department of Public Health and Human Services has proposed a rule making it easier for transgender people to change the sex on their birth certificate.

In each case, more than a majority of legislators voted or signed petitions to add these items to the special session agenda. It takes at least 76 of the 150 legislators to vote to expand a special session agenda.

The actions mean the bills can be introduced and considered; it does not ensure their passage.

Democrats, who opposed the expansions, were especially critical of the move to include the transgender rule.

“Today we saw a stark contrast between one party that showed up to address the budget issue we face, and one party that wants to waste taxpayer money and … do things to harm people,” said Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula.

The state health department proposed the rule change earlier this year.

Republicans used the petition process to expand the agenda for all but the MDC and transgender issues. Seventy-nine Republicans voted to include the MDC issue; 81 voted for considering the transgender birth-certificate rule.

About Mike Dennison

MTN Chief Political Reporter Mike Dennison joined MTN News in August 2015 after a 23-year career as a newspaper reporter covering Montana politics and state government. While some may believe that politics are boring, Mike firmly believes that's not the case if you tell the story with pizzazz and let people know why the story is important.
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