Montana Public Radio

The Session Week 4: Affordable Housing, Voting, Teacher Pay

Jan 25, 2021

As of midday Jan. 22, 375 bills have been introduced, one bill has become law. This week, we’re watching policy that could impact housing, voting, teacher pay.

House Bill 21 passed the House last week and is now heading to the Senate. The bill carried by Rep. Geraldine Custer, a Republican from Forsyth, proposes to expand a program the Legislature passed last session, which lets the Montana Board of Housing use a portion of the state’s coal trust fund as a bank to offer low-interest loans to affordable housing developers.

HB 21 is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in Senate Finance and Claims.

House Bill 134, sponsored by Missoula Democratic Rep. Danny Tenenbaum would limit the zoning powers of Montana cities of 50,000 people or more to designate certain neighborhoods for only single-family homes. Tenenbaum argues that those zoning regulations put an artificial constraint on housing supply, driving up prices so that housing is less affordable than it would be if it was easier to convert homes in those neighborhoods to duplexes, triplexes or fourplexes.

HB 134 is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in House Local Government.

Senate Bill 92 would require disallow appointed county elections administrators and instead require them to run for office in partisan elections. The bill is carried by Republican Sen. Gordon Vance of Belgrade.

SB 92 is scheduled for a hearing Monday in Senate State Administration.

Senate Bill 93, also carried by Sen. Vance, would revise state laws on poll watchers to allow authorized poll watchers at mail ballot deposit locations. Current law allows one poll watcher from each political party to be stationed close to the polling places in a location that does not interfere with the election procedures.

SB 93 is scheduled for a hearing Monday in Senate State Administration.

House Bill 143 is carried by Rep. Llew Jones, a Republican from Conrad, is carrying. It would allocate about $2.5 million from the state’s general fund to create an incentive program for Montana school districts to pay their starting teachers a higher salary. Montana ranks last in the country right now for starter teacher pay. Jones has been working with Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte on this bill. During his campaign, Gianforte made raising starter teacher pay a key promise, and the concept for House Bill 143 was outlined in Gianforte’s proposed budget. Those who lobby for public school interests are also backing the bill.

HB 143 is scheduled for a hearing Monday in House Education.