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Key deadline coming to Montana Legislature

Posted: 7:55 AM, Feb 26, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-26 09:55:15-05

HELENA – Time is running out for Montana lawmakers to get their bill advanced during “transmittal week” and that means long hours, short hearings, and a big deadline.

The 2019 Legislature hits its half-way mark on Saturday – and if a general bill doesn’t make it out of its original house by that day – the transmittal deadline – it’s pretty much dead.

With that deadline looming, scores of bills and their sponsors are making a last-minute push to survive.

Even a sub-zero snowstorm didn’t keep citizens away Monday, which began with packed committee hearings, and long agendas.

The 62 bills heard in committee Monday included one to allow legislators to carry concealed weapons in the Capitol.

Sponsor Sen. Roger Webb (R-Billings) said the lack of security at the Capitol means lawmakers should have the option protecting themselves with a gun.

“It’s not a matter of when, because it’s going to happen. We are the softest target this time of year in the state. People walk in this facility every day with a firearm,” Webb said.

The House Business and Labor Committee heard emotional testimony on a bill to increase the minimum required coverage levels for car insurance in Montana.

Montana Legislature Votes
The 2019 Legislature hits its half-way mark on Saturday and if a general bill doesn’t make it out of its original house by that day it’s pretty much dead. (MTN News photo)

Edward Morris of Bozeman, struck by a car in 2017 while he rode his bike, later discovered the driver had only the legal $25,000 minimum of coverage for Morris’ injuries.

“I was rushed to the hospital, my life was hanging by a thread, I was rushed into surgery,” Morris said. “After I was getting released from the hospital, I received this punch in the gut from the financial people at the hospital – that my bill was close to $160,000.”

Insurance-industry lobbyists lined up against it, saying it would raise premiums on car insurance and lead to more uninsured drivers.

The House Judiciary Committee also heard a half-dozen bills Monday, including three to limit required vaccinations.

Most of these bills have until Wednesday to clear a committee – after which the House and Senate go to all-day floor sessions, to handle the crunch of bills trying to make Saturday’s deadline.

“We always want to make sure every bill has a fair hearing and adequate time, however, when we’re up against a deadline, sometimes time limits are basically constrained by what’s in the committee at that time,” House Speaker Greg Hertz (R-Polson) said.

Some of these bills will make it. Some won’t. And if they do – they still have the next house to navigate. Let’s just say by Saturday – there will be a lot fewer bill alive than there are today.

Lawmakers break for almost five days after reaching Saturday’s mid-way point before starting the last half of the session.

-Mike Dennison reporting for MTN News.