65th Legislative Session wrap up

By: 
Rep. Vince Ricci
Montana House District 55

As I reflect on the end of the session I just want to thank everyone for their support and the honor it is to represent everyone in Helena. I served on four committees. Chair of Legislative Administration, Vice-Chair of Business and Labor. I also served on Agriculture and Health and Human Services. There were 664 House bills introduced. In my four committees I heard 284 bills. Let me try and highlight what I think were the most important.
The legislature began with a beginning balance of $79 million dollars, the legally required minimum is $121 million. The Democrats wanted tax increases (listed below) to make up the difference. The appropriations committee was able to craft a budget that would leave a $200 million ending fund balance with budget safeguards to be implemented if the balance starts to get too low. Budget cuts can then be made to protect the balance so we are not faced with such a low beginning balance when the legislature convenes in 2019.
Some of the tax increases that were killed. HB 215 would have raised the tax on new oil and gas wells. HB 607 would tax soft drinks. SB 191 would have raised the tax on wine. SB 328 would increase the tax on wine, beer, liquor and liquor licenses. The tax increase on cigarettes would be $1.50 per pack.
All of these would affect Montanans.
The gas tax passed. It was amended in the Senate to 4.5 cents for gas and 1.5 cents for diesel. Then increase to six cents in 2023 and diesel to two cents by 2023. I voted NO.
Since so much was made about the all mail ballot, Montana’s special election for our lone Congressman will be conducted as it always is. If you vote by mail you will vote by mail. If you want to go to the polls you can vote at the polls. Nothing changes.
Outdoor issues that passed. HB 97, expands Hunter Block Management, HB 434 improves wildlife habitat, and HB 498 promotes public access by using the Unlocking Public Lands Program, using incentives for private land owners. HB 597 creates voluntary grant program to pay for costs to secure public access through private lands.
As usual many pro second amendment bills that I supported had a difficult time making it across the governor’s desk.
HB 385 that would allow school district employees with a concealed carry permit to carry a concealed weapon on school property, I voted no.
Real ID passed to give Montanans an option when purchasing their driver’s license or ID card to opt for a Real ID compliant card or if they don’t want a Real ID compliant card they can obtain a passport to allow them to board domestic or international flights.
Every session cash for infrastructure is passed; this year $173 million was passed in four different bills. Now the big issue SB 367 that is being played out in the press. This infrastructure bill was to be paid for with bonding which requires 67 votes. It contained money for Laurel water intake and Laurel schools. After thoughtful consideration I did vote yes the first time it was brought to the floor. Even though I don’t like putting the state in debt Laurel could use the money since they had to spend their reserves to complete the intake when the State failed to match the Federal funds. It failed. It was reconsidered 3 times and I did vote no on the reconsiderations.
To me it is an exercise in futility to keep bringing it back only to end up with the same result. Sometimes we have to accept the vote even when we don’t agree. After that vote HB 8 was defeated, it funded rural water projects including Huntley’s. This bill has passed in every session for at least 20 years, all 41 Democrats and four Republicans voted against it.
That ended the session on April 28, 2017.

Upcoming Events

Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Tuesdays, Noon, Beartooth Grill, 305 1st Ave. S.
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
10 a.m., Laurel Public Library, 720 West Third Street, Laurel, 628-4961
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., check www.laurelexchangeclub.org for more info. Find them on Facebook www.facebook.com/laurelexchangeclub . Email them to find out meeting time and to join: clubinfo@laurelexchangeclub.org The club will have a meeting or volunteer activity. Meeting location is Sid's East Side Bar & Grill on first and third Wednesdays of each month. Members and guests eat free.  Volunteer activity on the second Wednesday of each month. Check their facebook page for updates.  Every fourth Wednesday is for a club social activity. 
Saturday, July 20, 2019
Third Saturdays, 1 p.m., The Crossings, 600 Roundhouse Dr.
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Tuesdays, Noon, Beartooth Grill, 305 1st Ave. S.
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Fourth Tuesdays, 7 p.m., Eagles Hall, 313 W. Main, 628-4503

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