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New laws begin with fiscal year

by Associated Press
| July 2, 2013 5:20 PM

HELENA — This part of summer is a time for patriotism. It’s also the time new state laws go into effect across Montana and the nation.

Fiscal years began July 1 on most financial calendars, and a slew of state government spending regulations kick in each year on that date. Policy laws also hit the books in a wave, though states often mark their independence by enacting such legislation on their own time.

Among the laws set to take effect this year around the U.S. are new abortion limits, gun laws and technology rules. And one state, Wyoming, will start setting up a lottery Monday, leaving only a handful of states without a jackpot drawing.

So, as people get ready for Fourth of July cookouts and family gatherings, know that nearly 100 laws will go into effect in Montana on July 1. Here’s a roundup of the most notable:

PENSIONS: Two bills aimed at fixing the biggest state employee pension plans go into effect — although a snafu in one of them threatens to derail the fix for the plan that covers most state and local government employees. The bills increase contributions from employees and their public employers while also reducing the annual inflationary increase for retirees. The bill covering public school teachers is expected to go into place mostly without a hitch. But a retirement board is currently mulling a request to fix a mistake in the pension fix for public employees that could lead to the contribution increases prematurely going away in less than a year. Some lawmakers say that little could be left of the fix if the courts also rule as unconstitutional the reduction in the annual inflationary increases.

• BUDGET: The state’s new budget goes into place, which increases spending of state money about 11 percent over the next two years. Most of the $11.4 billion budget comes from federal money that fluctuates with big programs like Medicaid. Overall, including that federal money, the budget is up about 4 percent over the last two-year spending period. Lawmakers from both parties who supported the plan said it was a good compromise that took care of needs covering many areas of government, such as social services like Medicaid and in the Department of Corrections.

•  PAY INCREASE: Lawmakers approved pay increase for state employees, many of whom hadn’t seen a general pay hike in more than four years. Lawmakers reduced the cost of the original proposal, which provided for pay hikes of 5 percent for each of the next two years, by about a third and told Gov. Steve Bullock to figure out how to divvy it out. The pay hike was one of the biggest contributors to the increase in state spending. The governor and state employee unions later announced the money allocated by lawmakers would be used for a 3 percent raise starting in July and another 5 percent raise in November 2014. Pay increases for university system employees are still being negotiated.

•  SCHOOL FUNDING: A new plan for funding schools that cleared the Legislature with support from a bipartisan coalition goes into effect. Senate Bill 175 was the result of a multi-year effort by Republican state Sen. Llew Jones, of Conrad, and various interest groups to improve the school funding system. It ultimately hopes to reduce the burden on local property taxpayers with the help of natural resource money. It costs more than $50 million over the next two years.

•  ABORTION: A new law requiring girls younger than 18 to obtain parental consent before getting access to abortions goes into place. Opponents have already filed a lawsuit aimed at blocking it. Gov. Steve Bullock allowed the measure to become law without his signature as part of a strategic gamble that anticipates the legal challenge will succeed. The move would prevent a similar ballot measure from going to the voters in 2014. Bullock and women’s health advocates argue the measure violates the privacy and protection rights of young women. But supporters argue parental consent is consistent with the will of voters, who just last year approved a less stringent requirement for parental notification for those under 16 years of age.