Friday, December 08, 2023

Senate kills Medicaid work requirements bill, passes dozens of others ahead of transmittal

by BLAIR MILLER Daily Montanan
| March 7, 2023 7:00 AM

The Montana Senate wrapped up its pre-transmittal work last Thursday after a marathon day on the floor that started at 8 a.m. and wrapped up more than 13 hours later.

The body heard another 70 bills on second reading after hearing more than 60 on Wednesday, then took executive action on all the bills that passed their second readings both Wednesday and Thursday – passing the bulk of them, but killing off a few – including a few surprises, according to lawmakers.

The upper chamber is now on a transmittal break until next Thursday, when it will reconvene at 5 p.m. to kick off the second half of the session.

Here is a roundup of Thursday’s floor action below:

Sen. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls, silenced the Senate floor during discussion of Missoula Democrat Sen. Shane Morigeau’s bill to remove the statute of limitations for people to file civil claims tied to their sexual abuse as children.

Brown told the body about how he was abused as a child and could not bring himself to tell anyone about the abuse until later in life.

“I’m an expert on what this does to kids,” he told the floor. “I’ve been there, done that, and I don’t want to see it happen to someone again.”

The body had gone back and forth about how a person’s memory could become foggy over the years and if that should keep people from being able to bring tort claims years or even decades after they were abused.

But an emotional Brown said the abuse still influenced him to this day.

“If this does nothing more than to let those people know that no matter at what point in life, you may be held accountable for what you’ve done to some small child that didn’t have the strength to resist, then it is a success because you live with that every day,” he said.

He spoke about how victims fear they may be rejected by their peers. He said he was afraid to tell his own father because he would have murdered the abuser and left him without a father.

“We need to be sure people can always know they can stand up and have a voice no matter how old they are,” he said. “… I see the reasons why people don’t.”

Morigeau’s Senate Bill 277 passed second reading in a 46-4 vote, with Republican Sens. Beck Beard, Steve Hinebauch, Jeremy Trebas and Daniel Zolnikov voting against it. The bill passed third reading 47-3.

Though his Senate Bill 402 was initially postponed, Sen. Willis Curdy, D-Missoula, convinced the Senate to reconsider the motion, which ended up passing second reading Thursday night in a 31-19 vote.

The bill would increase hazard pay for Montana firefighters working on helibases and active fires, whose federal counterparts have seen raises over the past year and receive hazard pay when working under the same conditions. It was referred to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee.

Hamilton Republican Sen. Theresa Manzella’s Senate Bill 434 suffered the worst defeat of the session in the Senate thus far when it was voted down 7-43 on second reading.

The bill aimed to establish a “Constitution Settlement Commission of the States” in which at least nine states would have sent a representative to a meeting to discuss federal overreach on states’ rights, though she said the commission would have no real power. Sen. Tom McGillvray, R-Billings, excoriated the proposal, calling it a waste of time that contained “seditious ideas” and comparing it to the Confederate states’ actions that led to the Civil War.

Senate Joint Resolution 11, sponsored by Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, also failed on second reading in a split 25-25 vote. The resolution was aimed at the notion that the legislature, and not the Supreme Court, has the sole power to make laws in the state. Regier said the measure was a clarification of who makes the law in Montana and a check on the separation of powers. Nine Republicans voted along with all Democrats to kill the measure.

Several bills brought forward by the special select committee on election integrity passed second reading overwhelmingly Thursday. Kila Republican Sen. Carl Glimm’s Senate Bills 481 and 482 passed in 50-0 and 43-7 votes, respectively. The first requires digital records of ballot counts in counties that use tabulators to be kept for seven years.

The second would validate election systems before and after elections. Senate Bill 498, sponsored by Sen. Morigeau passed second reading in a 50-0 vote. It would clean up inactive voter lists. Each easily passed their third reading votes.

Senate Bill 419, sponsored by Sen. Shelley Vance, R-Belgrade, passed second reading in a 30-20 vote. It aims to ban TikTok in Montana and implement penalties for those who violate it. Vance said TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, was “operating as a surveillance arm of the Chinese Communist Party.” It also passed third reading on a 30-20 vote.

Senate Bill 308, sponsored by Sen. Kenneth Bogner, R-Miles City, which he said he brought because COVID restrictions prevented some people from seeing their loved ones before their death or a family member’s death, passed in a 40-10 vote.

It allows a patient to have at least two hours of in-person visitation per day, even during a state of emergency of declared disaster. Health care facilities could still subject visitors to health screenings and restrict them from entering if they do not pass the screening.

From Wednesday:

The Senate gave final approval to four bills that complete an “eight pack” of measures sought by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte from the legislature surrounding the governor’s tax cut and investment goals. It passed on third reading House Bill 192, which gives one-time income tax rebates to Montanans; House Bill 222, which gives $500 property tax rebates to primary residence owners each of the next two years; House Bill 251, which pays off the state’s general obligation debt of about $25 million each year; and House Bill 267, which sends about $100 million in surplus money into a SAFER Montana Roads and Bridges Account that will work to leverage at least $600 million from the federal government to repair roads and bridges.

A Senate Republican spokesperson said Gianforte is expected to sign the package of bills in the next two weeks.