HELENA — A day after the Montana Legislature wrapped up its 67th session, Gov. Greg Gianforte and Republican leaders from the House and Senate held a news conference, highlighting what they saw as their top achievements.
This was the first legislative session in 16 years with a Republican in the governor’s office, and the Republican majorities in both houses saw it as an opportunity to achieve some of their long-held priorities that they hadn’t been able to get through with a Democratic governor.
On Friday, Gianforte said he was proud of the budget lawmakers produced, which included limited spending increases, lower income tax rates and several measures to reduce property taxes for businesses and individuals.
“Ultimately, we’re creating an environment where Montana is more competitive, where businesses can grow, thrive and create more good-paying Montana jobs,” he said.
Republican leaders also pointed to a variety of other measures that passed through the Legislature:
· Up to $1 billion in infrastructure projects – especially the expansion of broadband internet connectivity – paid for with money from the federal COVID relief bill
· Credits to encourage trades education, and incentives for school districts to raise teachers’ pay
· Lifting regulations to allow more flexibility in health care
· Bills eliminating same-day voter registration and tightening voter ID requirements, which leaders said would ensure election integrity
· Expansion of the ability to carry concealed firearms
· The signing of three bills putting greater regulations on abortion
“I think we will all walk out of here with our heads held high of what we did this session, and these accomplishments will lead Montana forward for many years to come,” said Sen. Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell, the senate president.
Democrats, the minority in both houses, were critical of the majority. In statements over the final day of the session, leaders argued Republican tax proposals favored the wealthy, that many of the bills the Legislature passed were infringements on Montanans’ rights that would be challenged in court, and that the Republicans spent too much time on an investigation into perceived political bias in the judiciary.
However, Rep. Kim Abbott, D-Helena, the House minority leader, said on the House floor Thursday that she saw some positives to point to.
“I also think we were good partners to you all where we did agree,” she told Republicans. “I think on health care, on infrastructure, on education, on bolstering the workforce, in job training, we showed up, we worked with you, and I think we made those policies better.”
As of Friday afternoon, more than 300 bills that had passed the Legislature were still awaiting action by Gianforte. The governor has 10 days after receiving a bill to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
Among the bills Gianforte hasn’t acted on yet are House Bill 701, the major recreational marijuana implementation bill, and House Bill 112, which would block transgender female student-athletes from participating in girls’ and women’s sports.
On Friday, Gianforte generally wouldn’t give specific indications of how he planned to act on outstanding bills. He said he would carefully consider all of them over the coming weeks.