Archive for Committees

Amongst a sea of highly politicized legislation introduced this Session, attacking everything from ballot access to women’s rights, dedicated legislators continue to bring forward bills aimed at creating common sense solutions and benefiting hardworking Montanans.

An undeniable problem in the United States is the cost of post-secondary education, and the hugely burdensome debt that accompanies the pursuit of bettering oneself. The total amount of student loan debt in the US is currently larger than the total amount of credit card debt.

This is inexcusable and does not reflect the values on which America was built.

Friday afternoon the House Education Committee heard House Bill 166, sponsored by Freshman Representative Amanda Curtis (D-Butte). HB166, which Curtis calls her “Win-Win” bill, would direct state lottery income from the general fund to a fund specifically for education, providing scholarships to resident students pursuing higher education. When Montanans originally voted on the lottery, the revenues were intended to benefit education, but this vision has since been lost.  This bill is designed with that original intent in mind, and adds no taxes to accomplish its goal.

Curtis is a math teacher by trade, and has seen first hand the necessity of investing in Montana students. In her closing statements, Curtis said “every lottery player gets a ticket and hopes they’re going to win. Every student that comes out of high school with aspirations to get a college degree hopes they’re going to win too. We [as a legislative body] have a chance to help those odds along. We can’t do anything about the lottery odds, but we have a chance to increase the odds for our students.”

Montana’s economy is doing well, so let’s plan for the future by raising the bar even higher for access to education so our students can thrive in a state that clearly values their endeavors and offers them every opportunity for success.

When adjusted for cost of living and average income, the Montana University System is among the ten least affordable in the country.The average amount of state aid provided for students has dropped by almost 40% since 1996. Curtis’ bill would address a serious gap of financial aid between those who can afford to pay their own tuition and those with a low enough income to qualify for financial aid. A large majority of Montanans fall in this range, graduating with an average debt of $25,000 despite many of them working multiple jobs throughout their education.

Written by MDLCC Legislative Assistant Cassie Hintz

 

 

Today, House Republicans gave initial approval to amendments the Senate made to a bill that would allow insurance companies to discriminate against customers based on their gender. This means, for example, a person could be charged higher insurance premiums for their home owners insurance simply because they are a woman (or man).

This is similar to bills that have been pushed for decades in Montana. In the early 1980′s, Montana passed a law that reinforced the State Constitution, by stating that gender can not be used as a determining factor in insurance coverage. Every legislative session since then Republicans have attempted to repeal this law.

The version of the law this year, has been amended so that it does not allow health insurance companies to discriminate based on gender. This change came in part because the Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress last year, prevents gender discrimination in health insurance.

However, the point remains; discrimination based on gender is wrong. A person should not have to pay more in home owners insurance or life insurance simply because of their gender.

This bill will be up for final approval in the House tomorrow. If the House approves it, it will move to the Governor to either sign or veto.

Categories : Business & Labor

On Friday, we told you about the GOP proposal that would make it harder for the state to acquire new public lands for fishing, hunting, camping and other recreation. This bill would establish a policy that would require the state to sell off hunting, fishing or recreation land, before they are able to purchase additional public lands.

Today though, Democrats were successful in their efforts to stop the bill. The bill failed by a 48-50 vote on third reading.

The failure of this bill, is a success for all Montanans, especially sportsmen throughout the state.

The bill is not officially dead yet though. Republicans have 24 hours to reconsider their actions. However, assuming this does not happen, this bill is likely dead.

Apr
18

Back to Their Tricks

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After returning from their spring break vacation, Republican lawmakers were quick to return to their old tricks to make it harder for Montanans to vote.

The House Republicans today gave initial approval to a bill that would restrict the types of identification voters can present to qualify to vote.

Currently, voters have several options in order to verify that they are eligible to vote. They can present a state issued ID or they can present a utility bill, bank statement, pay stub, voter registration card or any other government document that confirms the address of the voter. This method has worked pretty well. Montanans can easily access the ballot and there haven’t been any major problems with voter fraud. In fact, most election related controversies are when Republicans try to stop Montanans from voting.

This Republican bill will make it harder for Montanans to vote. It seeks to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Under this measure, a state issued ID card would be the ONLY valid way to verify your address. This presents problems for a whole number of Montanans.

This bill  is part of the Republican agenda to make it more difficult for Montanans to vote. Similar measure the GOP have pushed have been met by the Governor’s VETO branding iron.

Categories : State Admin

Today, the Republican majority in the House gave initial approval to SB303, a bill that would restrict the state’s ability to acquire new public land for hunting, fishing and recreation land.

Under this bill, before the state could purchase  new public lands, they would be required to receive approval of the Board of Land Commissioners. In addition, the purchase must not result in any net gain of land in the state’s possession. This means, that the state would be required to get rid of land before it could purchase new land.

This bill would open the door to wealth, out-of-state landowners to come in and purchase pristine Montana land and lock the public out.

In addition, landowners who allow the public to access their land often seek to sell this land very cheap to the state upon their death in order to ensure their land remains accessible to the public. The state would not be allowed to purchase this land, regardless of how cheap it is, without first disposing of other land they own.

The bill faced bipartisan opposition, however it still passed by a vote of 51-49. It will face a final vote in the House when the legislature reconvenes on Monday.

Apparently the majority of the Republican House believes the state already has enough hunting, fishing and camping space.

As usual, Rep. Wagner had a “unique” take on the issue.

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