HELENA – House Republicans rebuffed four attempts by Democrats to blast bills from committees onto the floor for debate, including Gov. Steve Bullock’s $400-per-taxpayer rebate and his bill increasing the mandatory percentage of Montana workers on public works projects.
Blast motions rarely succeed in the 100-member House, where it takes 60 votes to move a measure to the floor. Republicans outnumber Democrats, 61-39.
Tuesday was the deadline for all bills except for budget and tax bills to get to the floor for debate. All non-money bills that fail to be passed from one chamber to the other by Thursday automatically die.
Republicans also turned down an effort by one of its own, Rep. Champ Edmunds, R-Missoula, to blast his HB480 to revise, increase and make permanent state tax credits offered by the state to film companies doing business here.
Here’s a look at the failed blast motions, by bill:
• House Bill 361 by House Minority Leader Chuck Hunter, D-Helena, would enact Bullock’s campaign proposal to give all Montana homeowner living in their primary residences a one-time, $400 property tax rebate. This bill, which isn’t subject to the transmittal deadline, would cost $100 million.
The House turned down Hunter’s attempt, 38-59.
Hunter said HB361 should be debated on the House floor Wednesday alongside a rival Republican bill, HB230 by Rep. Scott Reichner, R-Bigfork, to lower the statewide school equalization property tax levy to 19.6 mills from the current 40 mills. It would cut property taxes for individuals and businesses by $50 million a year as long as the law remains in place.
“In my view, this is one of the most important debates in this session,” Hunter said. “It’s my view these two bills ought to be on the floor together.“
He said Reichner’s bill would cut the average Montana homeowner’s property taxes by $44 a year. So it would take nearly 10 years for this average cut to catch up with the $400 rebate every Montana homeowner would get soon, he said.
House Taxation Chairman Mike Miller, R-Helmville, said, “As a Republican, I favor permanent tax relief.”
Miller said Hunter’s motion was premature because tax bills have a later transmittal date on April 5.
• HB490 by Rep. Amanda Curtis, D-Butte, to increase to 75 percent from the current 50 percent the mandatory percentage of Montana workers on state and local public works projects.
Curtis’ effort to blast Bullock’s bill failed, 45-53.
“I still think this bill deserves at the very least to be heard on the House floor,” she said.
Curtis picked up support across the aisle from Rep. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, who told of having to move to North Dakota for a job when he had young children at home.
“They need a Montanan on the back of a backhoe,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out there looking for jobs.“
But Rep. Steve Fitzpatrick, R -Great Falls, said requirements like this take away from competitive bidding for projects.
“This is really a philosophical question: Do you believe government mandates or the private sector creates jobs?” Fitzpatrick asked.
• HB319 by Rep. Carolyn Pease-Lopez, D-Billings, to establish transition requirements for youth who will be ineligible for children’s mental health services at age 18.
Her effort failed 48-50.
“I understand when we say ‘new program,’ that’s a signal for some people to say, ‘N-O,’ ” Pease-Lopez said. “When we don’t do anything, we are spending way more than we need to.”
She said she is not developing a new program but helping save lives and saving money.
Rep. Cary Smith, R-Billings, opposed creating a new program. He said Montana already has many obligations to fix, including its pension funds.
• HB441 by Reilly Neill, D-Livingston, to add coverage of mammograms to the mandatory services under the state employees’ group health plan.
It failed 42-56.
Neill said the citizens of Montana should have access to these screenings because they can detect breast cancer early.
“I’m willing to pay a few dollars more for insurance,” she said.
Rep. Pat Ingraham, R-Thompson Falls, opposed the bill, saying Montana already has some of the highest number of health insurance mandates. She said it would drive up the cost of health insurance for others.
• HB480, by Edmunds, to boost Montana’s incentives to attract movie and television companies to do business here.
Edmunds said his bill would help attract more movie companies to Montana.
“Yes, there will be some business out there,” said Rep. Brian Hoven, R-Great Falls. “The state will lose income.
It went down 44-54.