Elinor Smith

HELENA (UM Legislative News Service) - The Montana Legislature is finished for the first half of its 90-day session.

At about 10 a.m. on Friday, the House of Representatives adjourned after a three-day, almost-48 hour series of floor sessions. The House passed 180 bills between Wednesday and Friday. 

The Senate adjourned at 11 the night before, after almost 24 hours of voting over the span of two days. According to the Legislature’s database, the Senate advanced 119 bills in that time, covering topics ranging from education to wildlife management. 

Bills introduced and passed in the Senate will now move onto the House and vice versa. This week is the transmittal deadline -- meaning any general bill that hasn’t passed through its first house yet is just as well dead.

Lawmakers will now spend the second half of the session voting and discussing the general bills that made that deadline and all of the bills that include using state money, including House Bill 2, which will decide Montana’s budget for the next two years. 

Issues like parental rights, abortion access, the housing crisis and taxation have taken center stage this session, with a supermajority of Republicans holding the reigns. Lawmakers have also debated issues relating to healthcare and the expansion of the trades in Montana.

The Republican triple-threat – holding the majority of both Legislative houses and the governor’s office – isn’t the only thing that’s unprecedented this session -- the state is currently sitting on a $2.5 billion surplus.

Republican Speaker of the House Matt Regier said at a press conference after the House adjourned that members of his party are particularly happy about the success of bills that reduce taxes and restrict abortion. 

“This historic tax relief package is on its way to our governor's desk. Putting money back in Montana's pockets will help create more jobs and grow the local economy. Montana sent the Republican supermajority to Helena this session, and we are delivering to our constituents the income and property tax rebates that they deserve,” Regier said.  

Governor Greg Gianforte has called the tax package one of the largest cuts in Montana history. It would lower Montanans’ income taxes from 6.7% to 5.9% and give Montana homeowners property tax breaks. It would also include increasing business equipment tax breaks. 

Meanwhile, leaders in the Democratic party criticized the tax cuts, saying they wouldn’t help working Montanans, only rich Montanans. House Minority leader Kim Abbott also said putting some of the $2.5 billion surplus into the state’s investments could not only give money back to Montanans now, but pave a way for Montana to pay for its future.  

“We have a generational opportunity right now to invest in real problems in our communities, in childcare. Affordable housing and things that we're hearing from businesses every day, from families every day that are real issues in their communities and, for permanent property tax relief, which the GOP refuses to consider seriously,” Abbott said.  

Debates over how the state will use the surplus are likely to take up a large chunk of the second half of this legislative session, which will reconvene on Thursday, March 9 after a short break.