February 17, 2023
As predicted, the days of 90 or 100 – 0 votes on the floor are going to be fewer and fewer as the session goes on. Monday started off with HB252 by Karlan that would have created another $4,000,000 per year suicide prevention program in schools. These bills are of course always emotional, this actually came out of committee 18-3. It was exposed in debate as redundant and expensive and fortunately died 49-51. There is a rule called reconsideration that can be used to resurrect a bill that fails on 2nd, unfortunately that was used on 252 and the proponents managed to gain enough support that it will be coming back to the floor in a couple of days. HB303 by Amy Regier came out of committee on a 13-6 vote, all Democrats opposing. This bill extends legal protection to medical professionals who refuse to do surgical procedures contrary to their religious beliefs, examples include removing male or female parts to perform a so-called sexual transition. Fortunately, this bill sailed through 65-35 with 3 Republicans joining all 32 Democrats in opposition. HB 344 by Thane, requires all new school busses to be equipped with seat belts. I am a supporter and user of seatbelts but opposed this bill believing this is an issue that can be decided at the local level. It will also raise the issue of how to enforce use of the belts. This bill passed.
Tuesday HB196 to rescind a law passed four years ago allowing counting on election night to recess until the next day came to the floor. This bill by Hellegaard, passed the House. If signed into law election officials will need to staff accordingly and get election results out promptly, as was traditionally done until four years ago. Recessing has been a process abused by only a few counties. HB226 by Moore, addressing a BIG issue concerning unfunded liabilities in State pensions also came to the floor. This bill will introduce some important reforms as well as inject $300,000,000 of “surplus”, into the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). If enacted 196 should ensure the solvency of the system with reforms that have been kicked down the road for too many years. I support this bill and it moved on to Appropriations to be reconciled with all the other requests for $.
Wednesday and Thursday were big days for HB234 by Phalen. This bill seeks to put the skids on obscenity in our school libraries and classrooms. Opponents argued it would criminalize teachers and librarians. In reality any complaints would have to go through County Attorney offices to be prosecuted, removing frivolous complaints from moving forward. Our kids are being inundated with corrupt garbage, coming from many angles. 234 will help provide some buffers in our schools. I presented HB262, supported by MACO, this will help ease a bit of the unfunded audit and compliance requirements by the state on local government. More needs to be done but this is a start. HB279 by Brewster, for the administration, carves off another $108,000,000 of “surplus” to create a disaster mitigation fund. The interest off this fund is to be used as matches to federal money to do projects that may mitigate fire, flood and other potential disasters. Again, not a bad bill that perhaps should be budgeted for in the future. To me, it doesn’t trump the taxpayers right to have their overpaid taxes returned. I opposed. All three of the above bills advanced, 234 & 262 to the Senate, and 279 to Appropriations.
We wrapped up the week Friday by passing on 2nd, SB191 by Steve Fitzpatrick. This is an important judicial reform that will limit rogue judges from granting injunctions basically just because they don’t like the law. Examples recently are election reform laws passed in 2021 and enjoined by Moses in Billings. 191 will replace current Montana statutory language with federal language that places a higher bar for granting temporary injunctions. Montana’s lower standards are often abused by a shrinking Democrat minority to thwart the new statutes enacted into law. This will be a big step forward in balancing out judicial overreach.
Phew! Another big week. Again, if you want to organize a zoom or some other forum to get a more in person update or airing of issues, let me know. Our Prairie County zoom failed Friday, but we carried on by phone. Individually you can contact me, 406-974-2478, P.O. Box 200400 Helena 59620, email [email protected] or just come see us! Web site leg.mt.gov can be used to watch legislative proceedings online, look up bills, leave messages or a whole host of other matters. It’s also a place to get your page applications!
Representative Jerry Schillinger HD37