Four months ago, as the newly elected House Democratic Leader for the 2019 legislative session, I made a promise to the people of Montana that Democrats would lead with solutions.
Now that the legislative session has adjourned, I am proud to say that Democrats delivered. From affordable health care and infrastructure, to keeping our communities safe and supporting first responders, the 2019 Legislative Session was a victory for Montana families.
Our number one priority was fighting for affordable, accessible health care for Montana’s working families. Democrats knew the fate of health care for 1 in 10 Montanans hung in the balance this session. We made a promise that we wouldn’t walk out of the Capitol without reauthorizing Medicaid expansion, and we kept it. We’re proud to have supported a bipartisan solution that keeps our rural hospitals open, supports our small businesses, and protects affordable health care for as many of our constituents as possible.
Another top priority was confronting Montana’s infrastructure crisis.
This session, Democrats helped break the logjam after 15 years of inaction by lawmakers. We carried the weight on passing an infrastructure package that creates good-paying jobs and funds projects in every corner of our state, from renovating Romney Hall, to rebuilding rural waterways and crumbling bridges.
The Democratic caucus worked hard to make Montanans safer. The Montana American Indian Caucus spearheaded crucial legislation to seek justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, like Hanna’s Act, which takes the first step towards prioritizing missing persons cases across Montana. And our caucus made desperately-needed reforms to Montana’s statute of limitations for child sex abuse crimes, ensuring that survivors of these unspeakable acts can seek justice and closure.
We delivered health care for the first responders who dedicate their lives to keeping our homes and families safe. Democrats prioritized a “presumptive coverage” law for firefighters over the last nine legislative sessions—and this year, we got it across the finish line.
Most importantly, we did it all while holding government accountable to the people of Montana. We successfully restored and protected the critical family services that were cut by Republicans during the 2017 special session. But it wasn’t without a fight.
While Democrats fought tooth and nail to build a fiscally responsible budget, Republican lawmakers balanced our budget on the backs of hard-working Montana families. They rejected proposals to make the wealthy pay their fair share to fund essential services, all while recklessly proposing millions of dollars in new spending for their pet projects.
It was this same failure in Republican-led leadership that killed many good bills before they reached the governor’s desk.
In the final days of the session, Republicans refused to continue funding for 100 existing preschools that give 1,500 kids a shot at kick-starting their futures when they voted to end the STARS preschool pilot program and Montana’s Preschool Development Grant. These Montana preschools will now face a loss of resources that could lead to teachers losing their jobs, student disenrollment, and even possible closures.
Republican lawmakers also killed bills to require transparency from pharmaceutical companies when they jack their prices, and to increase fees on people who put up gates and block access to our public lands. And on Equal Pay Day, Republican senators killed a bill that would take steps toward closing the wage gap.
Montana families can be sure of one thing: This legislative session, Democrats led with solutions, reached across the aisle, and hammered out bipartisan plans to deal with the very real issues they face every day. I’m proud that we can walk out of these doors knowing that we fought for our constituents and delivered for all Montanans.
— House Minority Leader Rep. Casey Schreiner, D-Great Falls