The Montana Senate heard 70 bills on second reading, then voted on dozens on their third reading on Thursday, March 2, 2023, ahead of Friday’s transmittal deadline. (Photo by Blair Miller, Daily Montanan)
The Montana Senate wrapped up its pre-transmittal work Thursday after a marathon day on the floor that started at 8 a.m. and finished more than 13 hours later.
The body heard another 70 bills on second reading after hearing more than 60 on Wednesday, then took executive action on all the bills that passed their second readings both Wednesday and Thursday – passing the bulk of them, but killing off a few – including a few surprises, according to lawmakers.
The upper chamber is now on a transmittal break until next Thursday, when it will reconvene at 5 p.m. to kick off the second half of the session.
Find a roundup of Thursday’s floor action below:
Senate Bill 465, which would have directed the Department of Public Health and Human Services to implement community engagement requirements, or work requirements, for Medicaid regardless of whether the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved the waiver, failed on a 24-26 vote on second reading – one of the last the chamber took before transmittal. Sen. Jeremy Trebas, R-Great Falls, said he believed had his bill gone through, people receiving health care coverage through the Medicaid expansion could shift to regular Medicaid or buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
Trebas noted there were more than 120,000 Montanans now receiving coverage through Medicaid expansion, and lamented how the program had grown compared to what was forecast in 2015. But his idea was dissected by multiple lawmakers of both parties. Sen. Jason Small, R-Busby, said both he and the fiscal note for the bill did not expect CMS to approve the waiver, which would make Medicaid a state-funded program starting Jan. 1 of next year.
“I’d hate to call their bluff and find out they weren’t really bluffing,” he said. “A $1.1 billion state-funded Medicaid program – I’d hate to take that risk.”
Sen. Dan Salomon, R-Ronan, told the Senate how much in federal match money the state would lose if the bill moved forward, noting that it would be “a 100% match” if CMS decided not to approve the waiver.
“This would eat the surplus,” he said.
Sen. Christopher Pope, D-Bozeman, noted how the federal match on Medicaid expansion dollars is 9-to-1 from the federal government from the state.
“These are not folks waiting for handout,” he said. “These are the most vulnerable people in Montana. This is not the night to shove those folks off the cliff.”
Sen. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls, silenced the Senate floor during discussion of Missoula Democrat Sen. Shane Morigeau’s bill to remove the statute of limitations for people to file civil claims tied to their sexual abuse as children.
Brown told the body about how he was abused as a child and could not bring himself to tell anyone about the abuse until later in life.
“I’m an expert on what this does to kids,” he told the floor. “I’ve been there, done that, and I don’t want to see it happen to someone again.”
The body had gone back and forth about how a person’s memory could become foggy over the years and if that should keep people from being able to bring tort claims years or even decades after they were abused.
But an emotional Brown said the abuse still influenced him to this day.
“If this does nothing more than to let those people know that no matter at what point in life, you may be held accountable for what you’ve done to some small child that didn’t have the strength to resist, then it is a success because you live with that every day,” he said.
He spoke about how victims fear they may be rejected by their peers. He said he was afraid to tell his own father because he would have murdered the abuser and left him without a father.
“We need to be sure people can always know they can stand up and have a voice no matter how old they are,” he said. “… I see the reasons why people don’t.”
Morigeau’s Senate Bill 277 passed second reading in a 46-4 vote, with Republican Sens. Beck Beard, Steve Hinebauch, Jeremy Trebas and Daniel Zolnikov voting against it. The bill passed third reading 47-3.
Senate Bill 439, sponsored by Sen. Barry Usher, R-Yellowstone County, failed in a 25-25 vote on second reading. The bill would allow the state to find a new drug protocol by which the death penalty would be administered. Currently, while two people are still on death row in Montana, the state has been enjoined from putting anyone to death because a court ruled in 2012 it could not use the protocol written in statute. Usher was adamant the bill was not about whether the death penalty should continue in Montana, but rather the obligation to find a new drug protocol to use. Sen. Brad Molnar, R-Laurel, drew several objections from the chair by saying continuing to pursue the death penalty would lead to wrongful executions. Though the bill failed on second reading, Usher tried later Thursday to get the bill reconsidered, but that motion also failed on a split 25-25 vote.
Another bill from Usher, Senate Bill 440, also failed on second reading in a split 25-25 vote. The bill aimed to send the interest in lawyers’ “Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts” (IOLTA) funds back to the clients who paid into them. But Sen. Andrea Olsen, D-Missoula, as she did in committee, said the U.S. Supreme Court has determined the interest collected, which is currently sent to the Montana Justice Foundation, is not a tax, like Usher said. Further, she said, the amount of interest the accounts generate is small and difficult to sort out. She said the bill didn’t solve any problems –only created them. Nine Republicans joined all Democrats in voting against the measure.
Though his Senate Bill 402 was initially postponed, Sen. Willis Curdy, D-Missoula, convinced the Senate to reconsider the motion, which ended up passing second reading Thursday night in a 31-19 vote. The bill would increase hazard pay for Montana firefighters working on helibases and active fires, whose federal counterparts have seen raises over the past year and receive hazard pay when working under the same conditions. It was referred to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee.
Hamilton Republican Sen. Theresa Manzella’s Senate Bill 434 suffered the worst defeat of the session in the Senate thus far when it was voted down 7-43 on second reading. The bill aimed to establish a “Constitution Settlement Commission of the States” in which at least nine states would have sent a representative to a meeting to discuss federal overreach on states’ rights, though she said the commission would have no real power. Sen. Tom McGillvray, R-Billings, excoriated the proposal, calling it a waste of time that contained “seditious ideas” and comparing it to the Confederate states’ actions that led to the Civil War.
Senate Joint Resolution 11, sponsored by Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, also failed on second reading in a split 25-25 vote. The resolution was aimed at the notion that the legislature, and not the Supreme Court, has the sole power to make laws in the state. Regier said the measure was a clarification of who makes the law in Montana and a check on the separation of powers. Nine Republicans voted along with all Democrats to kill the measure.
Regier’s Senate Bill 313, which changes what and when information about judicial complaints can be made public by the Judicial Standards Commission, passed second reading in a 28-22 vote. An amendment was added in committee that would have the complainant sign an affidavit before the commission conducts its investigation. It would require complaints, even when they are dismissed, to be made public, and the commission would have to report to the legislature the identity of the judge who faced a complaint and how each commission member voted. Only some of the recommendations from the Montana Judges Associations were carried forth from committee into amendments and into the version that passed second reading Thursday. It passed third reading in a narrow 26-24 vote.
Usher’s Senate Bill 410 passed 31-18 on second reading. The bill removes a duty from those of the court administrator which stated they could “perform other duties that the Supreme Court may assign.” He said he felt the court administrator’s duties were enough to fulfill their job. There was no discussion on the measure on the floor. Sens. Fitzpatrick, Daniel Salomon, R-Ronan, and Sen. Jeffrey Welborn were the three Republican votes against the bill. It passed third reading in a 28-22 vote.
Senate Bill 436 from Sen. Steve Hinebauch, R-Wibaux, passed second reading in a 27-23 vote. It adds the governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state auditor, and Office of Public Instruction superintendent to the list of people who should represent public employers in collective bargaining. During its committee hearing, a representative for the Montana Federation of Public Employees said those officials were already authorized to participate in bargaining and that the bill was redundant. Sen. Shannon O’Brien, D-Missoula, said the bill was moving too quickly and might instead be a “great idea” for an interim study. The bill passed third reading in a 28-22 vote.
Senate Bill 337, from Manzella, makes changes to law to better “promote the involvement of parents” in schools, allows a parent to withdraw their child from a school if a parent says education material offends the beliefs of the parents related to sex, morality, or religion. It would also require parents to sign written consent for their child to attend certain classes, school functions and more surrounding human sexuality. Manzella again brought up the book “Gender Queer” that has been a frequent topic of discussion among Republican legislators this session and told the body that schools were having “secret LGBTQ meetings” and children were being “bullied into being gay.” Opponents to the bill, including public school teacher Sen. Edie McClafferty, D-Butte, said the bill was tying teachers’ hands and some lawmakers’ bills, including Manzella’s, were “trying to give public schools a black eye.” The bill passed second reading on a 27-23 vote, but then failed on its third and final vote, 25-25.
Senate Bill 490, sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, passed second reading in a 34-16 party-line vote. The bill gives subpoena power to interim, statutory and other legislative committees, broadens the body’s authorities and would allow the legislature to compel witnesses to testify at hearings if they are tied to legislative purposes. It passed third reading on a 34-16 vote.
Several bills brought forward by the special select committee on election integrity passed second reading overwhelmingly Thursday. Kila Republican Sen. Carl Glimm’s Senate Bills 481 and 482 passed in 50-0 and 43-7 votes, respectively. The first requires digital records of ballot counts in counties that use tabulators to be kept for seven years. The second would validate election systems before and after elections. Senate Bill 498, sponsored by Sen. Morigeau passed second reading in a 50-0 vote. It would clean up inactive voter lists. Each easily passed their third reading votes.
Senate Bill 483 concerning public-private partnerships on major projects, from Sen. Christopher Pope, D-Bozeman, initially failed on third reading in a 24-26 vote Thursday morning but was reconsidered Thursday night and passed in a 35-15 vote.
Senate Bill 419, sponsored by Sen. Shelley Vance, R-Belgrade, passed second reading in a 30-20 vote. It aims to ban TikTok in Montana and implement penalties for those who violate it. Vance said TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, was “operating as a surveillance arm of the Chinese Communist Party.” It also passed third reading on a 30-20 vote.
Regier’s Senate Bill 109, to redistrict the Public Service Commission, passed second reading on a 30-20 vote. He told the Senate the map proposed would put 20 House districts in each of five PSC districts, though he drew pushback from some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle about how his proposal split up several of Montana’s major cities. It passed third reading in a 30-20 vote.
McGillvray’s Senate Joint Resolution 15 passed second reading in a 29-21 vote. It states that that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1803 Marbury v. Madison decision, which set up judicial review, does not assert “that it is the exclusive role of the courts to say what the law is or that their decisions are final and binding on other branches of government.” It passed third reading on a 28-22 vote.
Trebas saw two of his other bills fail on second reading as well. Senate Bill 463 failed on a 15-35 vote. It would have revised the definition of marijuana to include other THC compounds and allowed for private member bottle clubs. His Senate Bill 467, which would have prohibited municipalities from banning short-term rentals, failed in an 18-32 vote on second reading.
Aside from Manzella’s bill, only two other measures failed on third reading after passing their second readings Thursday: Sen. Mark Noland’s Senate Bill 386 concerning real estate transactions, which failed 23-27, and Curdy’s Senate Bill 403, which would allow county commissioners to set local speed limits, which failed on a 25-25 vote.
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