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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Legislative Leaders Pleased And Peeved As 2019 Session Ends

The House chamber at the Montana Legislature during the 2019 session.
Nick Mott
Montana Public Radio
The House chamber at the Montana Legislature.

The Montana Legislature adjourned Thursday, sending a $10 billion state budget to Gov. Steve Bullock’s desk. Republican and Democratic leaders say their parties each picked up political wins and loses.

The two Republican Majority leaders in the House and Senate struck different tones in their final messages of the 2019 legislative session.

Fred Thomas a Republican from Stevensville is the party’s leader in the Senate.

"You know, this session really will go down as one of the more innovative sessions in time," he said.

Thomas and other Senate Republicans championed their work passing a framework to guide state borrowing for future large scale public works projects, creating new regulations on companies that negotiate prescription drug prices, and outlining tax credits for business that hire new employees.

Brad Tschida from Missoula, who's the Republican leader in the House, acknowledged some of the party’s wins of session. But in a speech on the House floor Thursday he expressed frustration over other bills that created new taxes and policy that he says conflicts with the intent of the constitution. He also mentioned a rift within the GOP.

"Our caucus has seemed to become two separate minorities, one of which differed from my values and my beliefs," Tschida said.

A group of around 20 Republicans, that some refer to as the "Solutions Caucus", voted against their party's hard conservative leadership, and with Democrats on major pieces of policy throughout the session, including Medicaid expansion.

The so-called Solutions Caucus includes Republicans who describe themselves as both moderate and conservative, but are more willing to find a middle ground with Democrats.

House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner is a Democrat from Great Falls.

"We sat down at the table, we worked hard, and we delivered all the solutions that we put out as priorities for the people of Montana."

Democratic leaders say those priorities included the continuation of Medicaid expansion, policies impacting missing persons and abused children, and approving funding for long stalled infrastructure projects.

However, Democrats and Gov. Steve Bullock were unable to pass a preschool bill, meaning the current pilot program will expire later this year.

Following the adjournment of both chambers Thursday, Bullock said he has around 300 bills left to review. He remained vague when asked specificts about the bills he will sign or veto.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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