Montana Legislature update

House passes state budget on unanimous vote

The Montana House voted unanimously Tuesday, March 19 to pass a two-year budget that includes funding to freeze in-state tuition on public campuses.

According to a report by the Billings Gazette, the move is unusual in that the budget, formally House Bill 2, was not subject to amendments or extended debate on the House floor after leaving the House Appropriations Committee. Instead, Republicans and Democrats said they had struck a deal to demonstrate that the substance of the bill enjoys bipartisan support.

Student Lobbyist Dani Clark said the budget included the funding level sought by university system leaders to keep in-state tuition steady over the next two years, in accordance with an agreement between lawmakers and higher education officials.

The budget also includes funding to expand the WWAMI program, which helps students interested in rural medicine study through the University of Washington’s medical school.

“We’ve got support from both sides of the aisle,” Clark said.

Before becoming law, the budget still needs to pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Steve Bullock. It is unclear how much support the budget will have in the Senate, and a Facebook notice posted by student lobbyists encouraged students to contact legislators in support of the bill.

State employee pay plan stalls in Helena

A bill that would have provided university system staff and other state employees 5 percent raises each of the next two years failed to pass the House Appropriations Committee on March 13. Although not formally tabled, the failure of a motion to move the bill forward in the legislative process on a 9 – 12 vote means the measure is likely dead.

Rep. Steve Gibson, the sole Republican to join the committee’s eight Democrats in supporting the bill, told the Billings Gazette that he and other Republicans are working on an alternate proposal. Some Republicans have expressed concern that a flat increase for all employees is inequitable, given that a few state employees have recently seen substantial raises while most have had their pay frozen for four years.