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Montana Legislature preview: Medicaid, welfare, taxes, utilities, Parole Board on agenda

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HELENA – The 2015 Legislature kicks into full gear this week, with a packed calendar of hearings and events. Issues topping the agenda include welfare, the state Parole Board, taxes and utilities.

Medicaid: Gov. Steve Bullock on Monday is expected to unveil his bill to expand Medicaid coverage to 70,000 low-income Montanans.

Also, on Wednesday, Rep. Albert Olszewski, R-Kalispell, will present House Bill 237, which limits state power to audit health care providers for overcharging Medicaid. House Human Services Committee, Room 152, 3 p.m.

Welfare: HB200, which requires drug testing for welfare recipients, will be heard Monday in the House Human Services Committee. Rep. Randy Pinocci, R-Sun River, is the sponsor. Room 152, 3 p.m.

Also Monday, two panels will investigate charges that the Bullock administration is encouraging approval of welfare benefits without proper verification. Welfare workers who’ve been subpoenaed are expected to testify. House Human Services Committee, Room 152, 3 p.m.; and the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, Room 102, 11 a.m.

On Wednesday, the Senate Public Health Committee will hear Senate Bill 148, which would require more verification procedures for welfare. Sen. Cary Smith, R-Billings, is the sponsor. Room 317, 3 p.m.

Taxes: Several bills to reduce taxes are up for hearing this week.

On Tuesday, the House Taxation Committee hears HB169 from Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, to reduce state income taxes by 5 percent, and HB166 from Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, to slightly reduce state income-tax rates. Wittich’s bill cuts income taxes by $79 million in 2017; Regier’s bill by about $26 million that year. Room 152, 9 a.m.

That same day, the committee also hears HB159, which allows homeowners 65 and older to limit how much their property taxes can increase. Rep. Frank Garner, R-Kalispell, is the sponsor.

SB116, which would increase the elderly homeowner/renter tax credit from $1,000 to $1,500, will be heard Wednesday in the Senate Taxation Committee, Room 405, 8 a.m. Sen. Brian Hoven, R-Great Falls, is the sponsor.

Parole Board: The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday will hear three bills restricting powers of the state Board of Pardons and Parole. The most significant is HB43, which would give the governor more discretion to grant clemency to convicted felons. Rep. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings, is the sponsor. Room 137, 8 a.m.

Utilities/energy: On Monday, the House Federal Relations, Energy and Telecommunications Committee will hear HB188 and HB192, to expand “net metering,” which encourages installation of individual solar- and wind-power systems. Rep. Wittich is the bills’ sponsor. Room 472, 4 p.m.

Another net-metering expansion bill, SB134 from Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, will be heard Tuesday in the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee. Room 317, 3 p.m.

Education: On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee will hear SB14, which raises Montana’s legal dropout age from 16 to 18, or graduation of high school. Sen. Robyn Driscoll, D-Billings, is the sponsor. Room 422, 3 p.m.

The same committee on Monday will hear SB107, which makes it easier for certain elementary school districts to add and create high schools in their respective districts. Sen. Taylor Brown, R-Huntley, is the sponsor. Room 303, 3 p.m.

Minimum wage: Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, on Wednesday will present SB2, which raises the state minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Senate Business and Labor Committee, Room 422, 8 a.m.

Tanning: SB125, which would prohibit minors from using tanning devices, will be heard Monday in the Senate Public Health Committee. Sen. Roger Webb, R-Billings, is the sponsor. Room 317, 3 p.m.

Elections: SB73, sponsored by Sen. Tom Facey, D-Missoula, requires a special election to fill a vacancy here in a U.S. Senate seat, instead of appointment by the governor, as happened in 2014. It will be heard Wednesday in the Senate State Administration Committee, Room 335, 3 p.m.

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