Five things to watch in the 2013 legislative session

After a rigorous campaign season, the real work is just beginning for elected representatives in the Montana Legislature.

In the 16-week session, the Legislature will determine the policies and practices that Montana will follow for the next two years. For higher education in Montana, and its students, much is at stake during the session. Everything from general funding to new programs to tuition fees will be determined, meriting the attention of MSU students and staff alike.

While there are many bills that affect students directly and indirectly, here are the top five things to watch this legislative session:

1) The State Appropriation Bill

This bill determines the amount of state funds that go to higher education. The funds are given to the Board of Regents to split between universities.

2) The Long Range Building Plan

The Board of Regents has endorsed the $20 million renovation of of Romney Gym deemed by President Cruzado as the “Romney Renaissance.” This proposal would renovate the 50,000 square foot building for student-centered services including, according to President Cruzado, “space for tutoring, mentoring and group study areas.” This proposal will compete against building proposals coming from MSU campuses in Great Falls, Billings and Havre.

3) The State Employee Pay Plan

This bill determines the funds from which state employees, such as MSU faculty and staff, are paid. According to President Cruzado, “Wages and salaries make up 88 percent of the university system’s entire instructional budget.” Montana currently has the worst-paid staff and faculty in the country, according to MSU Student Lobbyist Dani Clark. The Board of Regents, Montana Associated Students and ASMSU all regard this bill as the most important one facing the legislature this session.

4) The Creation of a Montana Cooperative Veterinary Medicine Program at MSU

This bill, if passed, will allow selected students to complete their freshman year at MSU, then transfer to Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. According to U.S. News & World Report, the college is among the top 15 in the country. This program will be available to 10 students per year, who will be offered more affordable tuition during their four years. The program is part of an effort to increase the number of livestock veterinarians, which are needed in Montana.

5) Establishment of a State Parks and Recreation Board

If passed during the legislative session, a five-member board will be established to have authority over the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission and “set the policies and provide direction to the department.” The board will meet quarterly and will play a large role in managing Montana’s gray wolf population. The state legislature must approve requests made by the board for the acquisition of new state land that has historic value or will be used as a state park.

The 2013 Montana Legislature convenes on Jan. 7 of next year, and will continue for 16 weeks.  ASMSU is encouraging students to get engaged with the legislature this session by filling out a survey on their website and writing letters to their legislator about issues that are important to them.