Montana Legislature begins 2021 session

by CHAD SOKOL
Daily Inter Lake | January 6, 2021 2:45 AM

The Montana Legislature began its 2021 session Monday and for many lawmakers the top priority will be fixing an economy ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As they hold a mix of in-person and remote meetings in the coming months, lawmakers also will have to consider any changes in tax revenue, craft a budget for the state government and figure out how to implement a voter initiative that calls for a taxed and regulated recreational marijuana industry.

But those aren't the only policy matters on lawmakers' minds. As of Saturday, legislators in both chambers had introduced nearly 170 bills on a variety of issues, and more than 2,900 other pieces of legislation were on hold or being drafted.

Here's a sampling of the introduced bills and what they would accomplish, in no particular order:

HOUSE BILL 69, introduced by Rep. Wendy McKamey, R-Ulm, would provide $600,000 in state funding so low-income families don't have to provide copayments for reduced-price school lunches.

HOUSE BILL 92, introduced by Rep. Kathy Kelker, D-Billings, would create a program to financially compensate people wrongly convicted of felonies and expunge those convictions from their records.

HOUSE BILL 37, introduced by Rep. Tom Welch, R-Dillon, would revise and tighten requirements for Medicaid applicants to qualify as "medically needy."

SENATE BILL 61, introduced by Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, would allow people to fish for free in Montana, without obtaining a fishing license, on Mother's Day weekend. Fishing already is free on Father's Day weekend.

HOUSE BILL 56, introduced by Rep. Denley Loge, R-St. Regis, would allow jail time and increase fines for motorists who fail to use tire chains when required, from $25 to $250. The fine would be $750 if failure to use chains causes an accident that blocks all traffic in one or more directions.

SENATE BILL 49, introduced by Sen. Mark Blasdel, the Republican majority leader from Kalispell, would allow one owner of an interest in a gambling business to transfer that interest to another owner without getting prior approval from the state.

HOUSE BILL 95, introduced by Rep. Brad Tschida, the Republican majority leader from Missoula, would remove confidentiality provisions from the state law governing ethics complaints against public employees.

SENATE BILL 4, introduced by Sen. Jason Small, R-Busby, would extend the state's Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force through June 2023.

HOUSE BILL 46, introduced by Rep. David Bedey, R-Hamilton, would establish a method for calculating state funding for special education.

SENATE BILL 31, introduced by Sen. Mary McNally, D-Billings, would require courts to consider "less restrictive alternatives," such as technological assistance or help with decision-making, before appointing guardians for incapacitated adults.

HOUSE BILL 78, introduced by Rep. Bill Mercer, R-Billings, would add employees and volunteers of after-school programs, camps, youth centers and recreational centers to the list of "mandatory reporters" of child abuse and neglect.

HOUSE BILL 67, introduced by Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, would establish a new formula for funding Montana's community colleges.

A complete list of introduced and unintroduced bills can be found on the Legislature's website, leg.mt.gov.

Reporter Chad Sokol can be reached at 758-4434 or csokol@dailyinterlake.com