Week Thirteen of the legislative session has now completed. State Representative Matt Rosendale checked in with a summary of last week’s activity.
Rosendale acknowledge area visitors to Helena including Steve Engebretson, Dawson County School Superintendent, and Kevin Dorwart Director of Operations for Glendive. He met with both of them and discussed the issues which each prioritized. He said “It is always good to have clear communication about the issues with the individuals who are directly impacted by them. I appreciate all citizens input as it enables me to represent the community more effectively.” Two Glendive educators also went to Helena to voice concerns. Donna Merrill and Laura Lee Myran were in town and Rosendale was able to introduce them from the gallery and share their concerns.
Rosendale said the legislature took a big step this week toward shoring up the state pension system. He explained “Over the last eight years taxpayers have been obligated to provide an additional $175 million dollars to the state pension system to cover the payments. All told the systems have around $2.5 Billion in unfunded liabilities. This week the House passed HB 632 which will direct “a portion of the expendable portion of coal severance tax collections” toward those obligations. This will not fulfill 100% of those obligations, however, with the other measures that have been taken this session to amend the way total benefits are determined, we are headed in the right direction. We must honor the commitments which have previously been made. There are several plans moving forward which will address future hires and provide benefits which are both fair for the employee’s and affordable to the citizens who ultimately pay the bill.”
With all the discussions about revenue forecast and the budget, Rosedale a new report is available from the State’s fiscal division that he encourages everyone to take a look at. The Legislative Fiscal Division published the year to date General Fund Cash Balance on Friday. Rosendale noted “It shows that Montana spent over $90 million more since July 1, 2010 (this fiscal year) than it generated in revenue reducing our bank balance by the same amount. This is what we are trying to avoid in the future. “ The report as well as other state financial date is available at www.leg.mt.gov and go to “FISCAL” at the top of the page.”
Rosendale co-sponsored HB 616 which was carried by Rep. Randall from Broadus and brought forward this week. HB 616 will revise the criteria to establish carrying capacity and estimated yields on agricultural lands which the assessment office uses for taxation. Many farmers and ranchers were shocked to see a dramatic increase in their last tax bill. It seems that in many cases the carrying capacities and yields were estimated far higher than the land would actually support. HB 616 establishes an advisory committee of people within the ag community who will provide the data which is used in establishing those rates to ensure accuracy. This was one of the few bills that passed the house 100-0 and is headed to appropriations.
Several bills passed this week supported by Rosendale that are designed to improve the quality of education and maintain parental control. HB 603 allows for the creation and supervision of “Charter Schools”. Charter schools are cropping up around the nation and allow more flexibility and emphasis on particular studies than state schools. The school curriculum and the student’s academic performance would still have to meet certain standards. They would give parents a choice. Some of these schools are created for gifted and talented programs, and others are created for students which may require alternative teaching methods in order to excel. HB 456 has made it through the House and Senate. HB 456 simply requires the school system to obtain permission from a parent or guardian prior to teaching their child information about human sexuality. Rosendale explained “Recently there has been a large debate about whether or not the school system should provide this type of information, and if allowed, exactly what the curriculum should look like. Each family has a different idea of how these delicate and very personal matters should be handled. In many households it involves much more than just health issues but addresses strong religious and moral values in which the state should not interfere. HB 456 does not dictate curriculum but will protect a parent’s right to choose whether or not they wish to have the school inform their child of this material.”
SB 424 was introduced this week and said he hopes it makes it to the House. SB 424 transfers $8 million from the Older Montanan’s Trust Fund into the General Fund. Rosendale said “This revenue will be used exclusively to fully fund Big Sky Rx and provide funding for grants to area agencies on aging. These services are used by some of the most vulnerable in our community and I fully support them. “
Rosendale continued to call for citizen input by calling 406-444-4800 or email to [email protected]