By Shantil Siaperas, Communications Director, Montana Association of Counties

Last night, Friday, April 5th, after the adjournment of both the House and the Senate, the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Judicial Branch, Law Enforcement, and Justice (Part D) convened at 6 p.m. for an unscheduled “work study” meeting regarding HB 773 (a bill titled “Modifying entitlement share payments”).

The meeting came as a surprise to many, as it was not announced upon the adjournment of neither the House nor the Senate floor sessions during their usual “announcements of committee meetings.”  HB 773 is also currently in the possession of the Senate and is scheduled for its Senate hearing in the Finance & Claims Committee on Monday, April 8th, which makes the event of a House Appropriations Subcommittee convening to discuss amending the bill even more questionable.

The impromptu meeting of the House Joint Subcommittee appeared on the LAWS website schedule for less than 16 hours (notification was triggered by the LAWS system at approximately 7:50 p.m. on April 4th and was removed by 11 a.m. on April 5th), making many advocates and stakeholders presume that the meeting had been cancelled.

During what was called a “work study” session, the committee discussed an amendment to HB 773 regarding the makeup of the members of the task force that the bill proposes to create in an effort study the prospect of local government Entitlement Share dollars being used to fund the State’s financially-struggling Public Defender system.  (HB 773 originated based on a proven-false theory that local ordinances are driving the rising costs of the PD system.)  Presumably, the amendment will be carried by one of the Senate members of the Joint Subcommittee who also sits on the Finance & Claims Committee.

This unconventional meeting can be watched by clicking here. (You’ll have to wait about ten seconds before the recording switches from the House floor session adjourning to the meeting of the subcommittee.)