Nicole Girten

(Daily Montanan) House Speaker Pro-Tempore Rhonda Knudsen cited Friday rising housing prices in Helena as reason to raise per diem rates an extra $39 for legislators’ lodging and meals.

In a committee meeting, Knudsen said lawmakers were made aware during interim legislative council meetings that legislators coming into the 2023 session were experiencing difficulties obtaining housing.

“While housing was available, the cost of that housing had increased substantially, but per diem had not,” Knudsen said before the Legislative Administration Committee.

HB 28 would increase per diem rates, the funds lawmakers receive every day during the legislative session, by an additional $38.57 per day for a total of $171. This change would match the per diem rates given to federal executive branch employees, the legislation reads.

This proposed switch to matching federal per diem rates would eliminate the current system of averaging the rates offered in five neighboring states.

Knudsen said the breakdown per day would be $107 for lodging and $64 for meals, with an additional $5 for miscellaneous expenses. The total increase to the state is $734,759 for this session, according to the fiscal note for the bill.

Rep. Llew Jones, R- Conrad, spoke as a proponent and said that legislators often are covering expenses for themselves in Helena but are also responsible for families back home. He said that legislators who may be making more money per hour when not in session still have the same expenses.

“They still have their car payment; they still have their insurance payment; some may be paying for their kids in school, braces, etc.,” Jones said.

The committee voted unanimously to forward the bill to the House floor as part of the “feed bill,” or HB 1, to fund 68th legislative session.