HELENA — After three days off for a transmittal break, the Montana Legislature is coming back to the State Capitol to kick off the second half of their 68th session.
Thursday was a fairly slow start to the final 45 days of the session, as the Senate held only a brief floor session. The House is set to return to the floor on Friday. After that, though, the action is going to pick up quickly.
Out of 1,413 bills introduced at the Legislature so far, it appears about a quarter – well over 300 general bills – failed to clear their first chamber before the transmittal deadline last Friday, meaning they’re likely dead. However, bills that appropriate money or raise or lower state revenues don’t have to pass through their first house until the 67th legislative day – about a month from now.
The only committee meeting on Thursday was the full House Appropriations Committee, which is continuing work on House Bill 2, the main state budget bill. During the meeting, lawmakers discussed the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services budget – by far the biggest section of HB 2.
Committee leaders expect to take action on HB 2 next week, to get it finalized before it gets a hearing on the House floor.
Also up for discussion in the second half of the session will be proposals to amend the Montana Constitution, which share the later transmittal deadline. Six proposed amendments are currently introduced and active in the Legislature, including proposals to establish a right to hunt and trap using “current means and methods,” add “constitutional carry” to the document’s right to bear arms, and revise the Montana Board of Regents’ authority in response to recent court cases that limited how the Legislature could set laws affecting state college campuses. Several other amendment proposals are ready to be submitted.
Any proposal to amend the Constitution must receive support from 100 lawmakers – two-thirds of the Legislature – to be put on the next general election ballot. If all 102 members of the Republican supermajority vote together, they can put an amendment in front of voters.
Of course, the Legislature also has to sort out the many policy bills that did move forward before transmittal. They include a flurry of bills dealing with zoning and housing availability, proposals to change election rules and judicial procedures and bills for establishing charter schools in the state. MTN will keep an eye on these issues and more, as we move into the last two months of the 68th session.