HELENA – The multimillion-dollar public works and building bill stalled in the House on Friday and delayed the adjournment of the 2015 Legislature by at least a day.
Representatives will meet again Saturday morning and try to muster the two-thirds’ majority, or 67 votes, to give final approval to Senate Bill 416, the infrastructure bill sponsored by Republican Sen. John Brenden of Scobey. The bill would provide at least $150 million in cash bonding and borrowing authority for local government infrastructure and state long-range building projects.
That’s the same place where the House was Friday morning, needing 67 votes to gain final approval to an amended version of the bill.
The bill passed on a preliminary House vote Thursday 70-30 and appeared heading toward approval on Friday morning. However, extensive arm-twisting Thursday night and Friday morning led to a different outcome.
Six Republican members who had voted for the public works package Thursday wound up opposing the bill Friday. They were Reps. Edward Greef of Florence, Stephanie Hess of Havre, Kenneth Holmlund of Miles City, Steve Lavin of Kalispell, Bruce Meyers of Box Elder and Nicholas Schwaderer of Superior. Some of them said they did so because they weren’t happy with the bonding levels in SB416.
After the bill failed to pass, the House took a lengthy break.
Rep. Carl Glimm, R-Kila, returned to offer a long amendment to change SB416 to reduce the bonding in the bill in favor of cash, significantly change which projects would be funded and direct more money to eastern Montana to address the impacts of oil and gas development. His attempt failed 45-55.
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A technical amendment was added to the bill, which passed 86-14.
Then the House voted to approve the again-amended bill on a preliminary vote, 67-32.
That left the House on Saturday needing to pass SB416 on a final vote with at least 67 or more “yes” votes so it can send it back to the Senate.
If the Senate approves the House-amended SB416, it is expected to pave the way for the Legislature to adjourn Saturday.
House Minority Leader Chuck Hunter, D-Helena, said he thought there was “a good chance” the Legislature would wrap up Friday, but knew passing SB416 was not a certainty. The bill could have a final vote fairly soon on Saturday morning, or it could go back to another debate in the House, with conservatives trying again to amend the measure.
House Speaker Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, endorsed the bill in a floor speech Thursday. On Friday, he was urging some of the Republicans who switched their votes to support the bill again.
Republicans who have voted against SB416 have said it relies too heavily on bonding and appears to be a “pork barrel” bill that provides money for projects in most of the major cities in order to attract the votes from legislators from those areas.