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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Schools groups back a proposal aimed at cutting health insurance premiums

Montana public school advocates say health insurance costs have burdened districts and weighed down employee salaries for years. That could change with a bipartisan proposal heard in the state Legislature on Monday.

House Bill 332 debuted in the House Education Committee with broad support from organizations representing Montana’s public schools. The bill would incentivize school districts to join together in a health insurance trust with a one-time deposit of $60 million from the state.

Proponents said state law has long prohibited school districts from levying taxes to fund employee health insurance. That’s led to districts taking a cut from staff salaries to pay insurance premiums. Montana School Boards Association executive director Lance Melton told lawmakers the trust would help schools afford better health coverage for lower rates.

“It’s appropriate, it’s conservative, and it should generate the kind of money we need,” Melton said.

At least 150 school districts would have to agree to chip in funds and join the program by summer 2025 in order for the trust to form with the full $60 million deposited from the state. The trust would dissolve by 2027 if membership parameters aren’t met.

Rep. David Bedey, a Republican from Hamilton, is sponsoring the measure alongside a bipartisan group of nine other lawmakers. He told MTPR the deadlines incentivize the districts to join quickly.

“Trust me, the more people you have, the more money you have, the better your negotiating position is,” Bedey

An insurance trust and co-op opposed the bill, saying it could coerce districts into a trust they don’t want to participate in. The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

He is best reached by emailing
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