The Legislature's 2017 session was a mixed bag 

Cue the backflips and sighs of relief. State lawmakers officially gaveled out on April 28, ending the long and contentious 2017 Legislature and giving regular Twitter users a break from the torrent of #mtleg tweets. The good news is that lawmakers managed to pass a budget. The bad news is that quite a bit was left undone—namely, anything even remotely akin to addressing the state's crumbling infrastructure. We've taken a look back at our coverage of the session over the past 90 days and compiled this checklist of the missions that did—or didn't—get accomplished.


To no one's surprise, the pro-life contingent came crawling out of the woodwork again this year, likely knowing as they did that their efforts would ultimately fail. The Montana Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act was signed by the House Speaker and Senate President, but Gov. Steve Bullock is expected to slap a veto on it. Same for Senate Bill 282, which would require physicians to save any fetus with a 50 percent chance of survival outside the womb. A constitutional amendment in the House to define personhood as starting at the moment of conception failed to... well... let's just say no physician would have been required to try to save it.

The budget

Yawn! The state budget is way less interesting than, like, Sean Spicer internet memes, but it does "matter," or whatever, so here are a few highlights:

First up, schools. The portion of the Montana University System budget that funds universities will take a 2.5 percent cut. What does that mean? Members of the state Board of Regents will decide later this month when they set tuition rates (spoiler alert: rates will go up). K–12 schools will get all the funding they need to keep up with inflation and enrollment changes, but with one caveat: The Legislature cut two state funding sources totaling $28 million to schools' base aid. State law guarantees that schools get their base aid (that's why it's called base aid), which means local property taxpayers will have to pick up the tab.

On the health and human services front, lawmakers wound up softening what initially looked like a far greater blow to Senior and Long-term Care. Way back in February, Republicans were floating a $72 million reduction over the previous biennium for a division charged with investigating elder abuse and providing in-home care for aging Montanans. That cut dropped to around $33 million by session's end. It also appears that the $2 million in cuts originally proposed for Disability Employment and Transitions turned into a $1 million increase over the 2016–2017 budget. So, count one small win for Montana's most vulnerable citizens, at least.

Money for UM

This really wasn't a good legislative session for Montana universities with plummeting enrollment, interim leadership and a budget crisis. Or was it? Tuition hikes are on the way, but the University of Montana did secure a $2 million earmark to help... pay the costs that come with getting rid of faculty and staff.

Ferrari tax

Ferraris will be taxed an extra $800 or so annually. So will Bentleys, Lamborghinis and all those palatial RVs with names like Phaeton and American Eagle that only get driven twice a year.

Vote by mail

Even a Rachel Maddow rant couldn't get the mail-ballot bill past Montana GOP chairman Jeff Essmann and his compatriots in the Montana House. So, come May 25, each county will shell out tens of thousands of dollars to host in-person polling stations for the congressional special election.

Sexual assault

SB 29 passed, removing the phrase "physical force" from the state's definition of rape and replacing mentally incapacitated with "substantially impaired." Other bills gave leniency to minors convicted of sex crimes and otherwise modernized statutes pertaining to sexual assault that had not been updated in decades.

Early childhood education

Sorry, kiddos. A scaled-back version of Bullock's signature 2015 proposal went nowhere, again. At the eleventh hour, however, negotiations between the governor's office and Republican leaders did yield more funding for the state's Stars to Quality program, a voluntary rating system for private daycare providers. The bill also encourages experimentation in public/private pre-K, but with only $1.2 million in additional money, don't expect many new preschools to pop up anytime soon.

The labor shortage

With Montana facing a flood of baby boomer retirements in the coming decade, freshman Missoula Rep. Shane Morigeau sought to provide the state's workforce with a much-needed floatation device. His pitch to establish a new $75-per-credit grant program for select students at tribal and two-year colleges passed into law with little hemming and hawing. Score one for the home team.

Political practices

The latest attempt to quash the office of Montana's top political cop, which came courtesy of unwavering political practices critic Rep. Derek Skees, died mid-session. However, a Republican-sponsored measure that would more than double certain campaign contribution limits in the state—and raise the minimum donation requiring disclosure from $35 to $50will head to Bullock's desk. As for Commissioner Jonathan Motl's replacement, Bullock officially approved the Legislature's pick last month: former Great Falls legislator Jeff Mangan.

click to enlarge After 88 days of Ferrari taxes, fetal personhood and brutal infrastructure fights, that statue of Thomas Meagher outside the capitol is probably thankful for some peace and quiet.
  • After 88 days of Ferrari taxes, fetal personhood and brutal infrastructure fights, that statue of Thomas Meagher outside the capitol is probably thankful for some peace and quiet.


The future of Montana's coal-fired power plant at Colstrip got a lot of lip-service in the weeks before the session. The Clean Power Plan may not be a major consideration in the Colstrip narrative for long (thanks, Mr. President), but a settlement between environmental groups and plant owners last summer has ensured that units 1 and 2 at least will shut down by 2022. And with Washington and Oregon moving against coal-fired power, there's a hefty question mark next to Puget Sound Energy's future customer base.

Though the early days of the session were notably lacking in the Colstrip conversation, several bills addressing remediation and financial aid gained traction later on. At the top of that heap was a measure from Colstrip denizen Sen. Duane Ankney titled the Coal-Fired Generating Unit Remediation Act, which outlined a fairly detailed plan for cleanup and remediation of retiring coal plants. The bill made it to Bullock's desk along with a resolution calling for an interim study on the impacts of reducing coal mining and usage in Montana. A proposal allocating funds to the Department of Justice for use intervening in out-of-state utility commission proceedings was signed by the governor last month, setting the stage for Montana to argue for financial assistance for workforce or community reinvestment if and when Colstrip shutters.

Time zones

What a relief. After sailing through the Senate, a bill from Sen. Ryan Osmundson to do away with Daylight Saving Time and establish Montana Standard Time fumbled in the House. It never even made it to a committee vote.

Vacation homes and landlord power

Montana's booming vacation rental industry will continue to operate in statutory murk. Missoula Sen. Tom Facey's SB 251 was tabled in committee in early April, leaving unanswered a number of questions regarding regulation of rental listings on AirBNB and VRBO. Sen. Dee Brown's SB 150, which would have required said rentals to collect a state bed tax, also died in committee.

Legislative power couple Roger and Peggy Webb (senator and representative, respectively) had slightly better luck in their quest to strengthen rental owners' authority under the Landlord and Tenant Act. The duo, who happen to own several rental properties in the Billings area, carried a slate of bills to give landlords greater power in accessing rental units, defending themselves in rental disputes and requiring notification of tenant absences exceeding five days. Whether their luck will hold up on Bullock's desk is an open question—Rep. Peggy Webb's proposal to tweak the state's definition of criminal trespass has already been vetoed.

Special education funding

Special education had little luck this session, as bills from both Republicans and Democrats were consistently shot down. Inflationary increases were not approved, nor was a motion to bring funding for special needs students into line with that for other students. Even Rep. Seth Berglee's bill to allow for a special needs savings account, a staple of states with more robust charter school programs, wound up tabled.


While House Bill 5 successfully funded a slew of infrastructure projects, the Butte veterans home among them, renewable resources projects and rural children had less luck. SB 367 and HB 8 both failed after repeated revisions toward the end, with the former mostly funding long-needed rural school renovations and the latter funding water projects. The nearly $80 million package failed to make it to the governor's desk after the House killed SB 367, prompting Democrats to band together to vote down HB 8.

Rep. Frank Garner arguably accomplished the most, successfully pushing HB 473 through both houses. That bill, if signed, will institute a gas tax to fund roads and bridges throughout the state, meaning Missoula residents may no longer have to fear being swallowed by the Clark Fork when the Russell Street Bridge collapses beneath them. Which probably won't happen. Maybe.


Were you hoping to take your Glock into Buffalo Wild Wings without fear of being asked to seek your chipotle barbecue fix somewhere else? Maybe you wanted to strap an AR to your back for a quick trip to the Post Office? You're out of luck—all major bills pertaining to guns and concealed carry laws were killed or vetoed by the governor. Better luck next time.

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