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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

2015 Session Ends, Major Infrastructure Bill Dies

Montana House of Representatives.
Montana Public Radio
Montana House of Representatives.


The 2015 Legislative session is over.

Lawmakers clocked out this morning after the House failed in another attempt to approve a statewide infrastructure bill.

The House was told by the Senate to try one more time to pass the negotiated $150 million proposal.

The Senate was on standby. After the House voted again to adjourn, this time for good, Senators quickly disposed of two infrastructure bills on the agenda. The first – House Bill 402 - was targeted specifically toward Eastern Montana.

President Pro Tempore Eric Moore, a Republican from Miles City says the Senate chose not to remove their amendments. Doing that would have sent the bill to the governor. Moore thinks if they had done that it would have jeopardized the other infrastructure funding bill – House Bill 8.

"Which is regional water, so that’s why that was done the way it was," Moore said. "We know 402 was going to be vetoed by the governor. Obviously we as Republicans would’ve liked to have some infrastructure bill on his desk even though we knew it was going to be vetoed but we decided to trade politics for policy and not sacrifice HB 8 for the regional water projects that are critical across the state."

The sponsor of House Bill 402 is Speaker Austin Knudsen of Culbertson. The Republican says for the second straight session money to help Bakken impacted Eastern Montana communities has failed.

"I’m disappointed obviously," Knudsen said. "With that being said I knew the governor didn’t have much appetite for HB 402. I think there was an effort by his party in the Senate to protect him from that vote but that’s why we negotiated so hard for SB 416."

Knudsen was part of the negotiating team on that bill. He also spoke publicly in support of it, and voted every time for Senate Bill 416 even though his Republican caucus was divided.

Because of the bonding component the bill needed a supermajority in both chambers to pass. It easily got that in the Senate, but couldn’t muster the necessary 67 final House votes.

Some conservative Republican lawmakers said they wouldn’t vote for the bill because they didn’t want to pass on debt to future generations.

Senate Bill 416 would have provided grants and loans for local government road, water, and sewer projects. It also provided money for a new building for the Montana Historical Society; expansion of mental health facilities in Warm Springs and Lewistown; and several renovations of Montana University system buildings that addressed federal ADA requirements, public health and life safety. Finally it had a loan for a Southwest Montana Veterans Home.

Some opponents objected to those projects or the fact public school projects weren’t getting funding.

Senate Majority Leader Matt Rosendale, a Republican from Glendive, says that’s why some conservative House Republicans wanted negotiations to resume.

"It’s my understanding the governor sent the message down he was not going to accept any amendments on 416," Rosendale said. "When we concluded our business on Saturday there was a number of members of the House and Senate that said we would be glad to sit down and work through the entire weekend to actually to change legislation. And we were told they were not going to change legislation they were going to take the weekend to change minds. So that is not acceptable."

Governor Steve Bullock said, "I think we heard a number of different excuses and reasons why a small group in the House didn’t want to actually create jobs and invest in infrastructure."

He didn’t directly answer when asked if his administration wouldn’t accept further changes to the bill, saying only this was a Republican bill.

"It’s a little disappointing that they’re trying to find fault at this point when you had 90 days to come up with a proposal," the Governor said. "We put ours out even before the session began. The same folks that said we ought to have invested money in the Quality Schools Program weren’t supporting the Quality Schools Program in the first instance."

Bullock says those Republicans who voted “no” on a GOP-crafted plan will now have to explain to their voters why their statewide infrastructure bill failed.

Even though lawmakers tangled over and ultimately let die Senate Bill 416, there is money for infrastructure projects from this Legislative session. And Bullock did sign into law House Bill 11. The Treasure State Endowment provides money for statewide water and wastewater projects.

Bullock also signed House Bill 6 for renewable resource grants and loans to help with irrigation projects and other water and wastewater improvements.

The Governor is considering three other infrastructure bills, including the GOP’s proposal for long-range building projects. House Bill 403 contains money for some higher education buildings as well as for Habitat Montana, the Upland Game Bird Program and for fisheries.

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