Volume 26, Issue 12
Published March 28, 2021

Stalking the Beastly Butterfly

Thoughts Provided by Shantil Siaperas, MACo Communications Director & Unofficial (Yet Still Official) Editor of MACo’s Legislative Update

(If you’re not interested in the meandering thoughts of a rambling lobbyist
and just want to check out the next issue of MACo’s Legislative update, I sympathize.
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HELENA – The Legislature is a real mover and shaker right now. Firstly, HB 2 (the State budget bill) will be heard in the Senate Finance & Claims Committee tomorrow, March 29th at 9 a.m.

Secondly, the last day to introduce “Appropriation & Revenue Bills” is also tomorrow, and the deadline for their transmittal is soon after. All the kerfuffle is caused primarily by the many priority pieces of legislation that have yet to cross over to the other side a mere 3 Legislative Days (LDs) after the Legislature returns from their scheduled Easter Break, LD 67, i.e., April 8th.

What are these bills? To name a few, there is the Governor’s SB 184, Montana Entrepreneur Magnet Act, which is likely undergoing some negotiations after it failed on second reading last week and was revived via a reconsideration motion.

There is also the massive marijuana legislation, which is needed to implement and create parameters around the recreational magic jellybean act. Those bills need to make it through the Business & Labor Committee, Taxation Committee, AND Appropriations.

And of course, there is the Beast (i.e. HB 632), the monster hulking around the almost $3 billion in appropriations from the American Rescue Plan Act—ARPA—funds that Montana is receiving.

Where Is The Beast Currently Dwelling?

We stalked the Beast all last week. He is currently undergoing his preening and pruning process in the deep dark cavern (or bright shiny mountain top, depending on the day) that is the House Appropriations Committee. They spent four straight days—mostly two meetings per day—creating the various amendments that will be combined into one very large amendment, which will then become the renewed version of the Beast—like the proverbial caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

What the heck does that mean? HB 632 will be treated much like HB 2: Every word in the existing bill will be stricken after the enabling clause and replaced with the aforementioned very large amendment. See? It goes into Appropriations as the Beast and emerges as the Beastly Butterfly . . . it’ll catch on . . . K . . . moving on . . .

. . . So, What Exactly Happened In The Appropriations Committee?

Choose Your Own Adventure: If you like details and want to go through the step-by-step progression of HB 632, keep reading. If you prefer to skip the self-inflicted pain portion of our regularly scheduled update, scroll down to the summary section.

Progression of HB 632

House Appropriations met March 23rd thru 26th in what was one LONG HB 632 hearing. Representative Garner introduced his Beast to the Committee on Tuesday. They then recessed and reconvened the following morning, then recessed and reconvened in the afternoon, then recessed again—every day for four days straight. They finally adjourned on Friday.

To help simplify the process, HB 632 was broken into five categories: education, health, infrastructure, communications, and economic stabilization. Click here to view the general layout/categories for HB 632.

Each day, the Committee reviewed a new category (sometimes two categories) then created an “amendment.”  All of the category “amendments” were then combined to make up one big beastly amendment that will replace everything currently in the bill after the enabling clause.

Confused? Don’t feel bad. We all are. It’s a necessary piece of the legislative puzzle, and the process will only grow more complicated as the end of the session grows nearer.

No worries though. Your MACo staff are tracking the meetings like caffeinated, squirrel-like golden eagles (cause we’re quick, agile, and have the keenest of vision. . . K . . . moving on . . .)

Below you can follow along with the Appropriation Committee’s progress last week as well as view each section’s suggested language that encompasses HB 632 (as of now). Or just click here for the combined amendments that make up the most recent version of the Beast.

No Time to Follow Along? I get it.
Below Is My Very Interesting Summary.

Consider This Your Warning to Close Your Email & Go Do Something Else . . .

The House Appropriations committee met for 4 LDs and created an amended version of HB 632. The bill creates categorized grant programs along with associated advisory commissions to manage the programs (health, infrastructure, communications, and economic stabilization all have grant programs—education funds are directly appropriated to OPI, commissioner of higher education, state library, and Montana arts council).

A nice addition to the bill is the creation of an “outreach team” to notify and assist local governments with the grants. As we all know, Montana’s more rural counties often miss out on funding opportunities because they don’t have the staff to get through the application process.

A . . .  noteworthy . . . addition to the bill is a provision requiring a 20% reduction to a local gov’s grant award if the local gov’s health regulations are stricter than those imposed by the state. I know. So many words. Don’t get over-excited just yet. The bill still has a long way to go before that final gavel falls.

I’m So Intrigued! What Happens Next?

HB 632 MUST pass the House Floor by April 8th, LD 67, i.e., the “Appropriation & Revenue Bill Transmittal” deadline. Having said that, the committee has put a rush on it, so they can give their staffers some down time. The goal is to send the Beastly Butterfly to the Senate by Easter Break. Their self-imposed deadline is April 1st. April Fools Day. (Nicely done Chair Jones. Nicely done. Golf clap.)

That means the Appropriations Committee will be acting on HB 632 as a whole tomorrow, Monday, March 29th. They reconvene at 9:30 a.m. Click here to watch the meeting.

After Approps passes the amended version of the Beast out of Committee, it will head to the House Floor for its second and third readings, which will likely be Wednesday and Thursday (March 31st and April 1st). If Approps can’t get the bill out of committee tomorrow, they will likely need to suspend House Rules to do second and third readings on the same day.

HB 632 will then flutter its beastly self over to the Senate where the Finance & Claims Committee will continue to feed, preen, and prune the Beast as further rules and guidance are released from U.S. Treasury. The bill will evolve as the situation evolves.

And Then?

And then it’s Easter Break. The Legislature will be off for four straight days. So, boil and dye some eggs, drink wine at church (and at home), eat some chocolate bunny ears and maybe some magic jellybeans . . . you do you. No judgement.

YOLO.

The Legislature will rise again on Tuesday, April 6th.

And Remember . . .

If you find yourself on uneven footing during the legislative session at any time, no worries. We’re here to help keep you apprised of what’s happening on the hill. Every week until Sine Die during these trying and perplexing times, we’ll be releasing a new issue of the MACo Legislative Update (linked below and above).

Each issue always has an up-to-date session calendar, an easy-to-print bill hearings schedule for the upcoming week, and the status of bills we’re watching or in which we’re actively involved. Pro Tip: Our website’s hearing schedule will be updated daily as the week progresses and new hearings are added, so be sure to check that out. It also has links to testify remotely and/or submit written public comment.

Don’t forget to check out the bills section, where you’ll be able to follow the status of MACo’s legislation, as well as track the growing list of bills in which we are monitoring and/or actively participating.

Click the button below to check out the new issue.

For other pertinent information regarding the legislative session, visit the policy section of our website.

See you either virtually via the internet highway or in the halls!

PS: 30 legislative days remaining

(The Legislative Update is linked below.)
Questions? We Got you!

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Eric Bryson, MACo Executive Director:  406-461-2084, ebryson@mtcounties.org

Jason Rittal, MACo Deputy Director:  406- 698-3255, jrittal@mtcounties.org

Shantil Siaperas, MACo Communications Director:  406-925-1134, shantil@mtcounties.org