Monday, June 05, 2023

Stakes are high for second half of 2023 legislative session

by Courtenay Sprunger
| March 9, 2023 12:00 AM

Growing up, team sports was a way of life for our family and one that garnered many valuable lifetime lessons. That’s why opening the sports section and reading about the Flathead Bravettes’ heart-stopping win of the Western AA title brought tears to my eyes this week. How proud we can all be of these young women, their coaches and families for their teamwork, camaraderie and character!

Montana’s young people are working diligently for their future and deserve every opportunity to build a life here. Fortunately, the state we are preparing for our kids is top of mind for many legislators. Encouraging is the shared vision to tackle some of our state’s largest needs such as housing, mental health, workforce development and infrastructure.

The list of what matters most is narrowing as we head into the second half of the session. Last week’s transmittal was “do or die.” If a bill did not cross to the other chamber or onto appropriations, it does not progress. The exception are “revenue” and “appropriation” bills, which have a few more weeks to transmit. Many important bills passed the transmittal line including $1 billion in tax relief, legislation to improve first-year teacher pay and health-care benefits for all educators, and investments in infrastructure and community safety.

While much has been accomplished, this is only halftime. For anyone who has played sports, acted in a theatrical production, or prepped the third and fourth quarter budget, it is understood that the second half is where momentum builds, and the stakes are highest.

March 9, House Appropriations will start work on the state’s budget bill (HB 2) and committees from both chambers will begin sifting through legislation that successfully crossed over. A top bill to watch in the second half is the $300 million mental health package carried by Rep. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork. A legislative leader in the mental health space, Keenan is teaming with Gov. Greg Gianforte to bring this generational investment. The HOMES Act, sponsored by Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, will provide an incentive program for areas thoughtfully zoned to attract high density, deed-restricted housing. This legislation encourages new inventory of attainable housing without removing local control. Both bills could provide great benefit for the Flathead.

On behalf of House District 7, I have seven bills to carry toward the finish line and one left to introduce. Closest to the goal is the SAFER Act, which is a $100 million state match fund. This matching fund will be used to secure approximately $800 million in federal one-time-only dollars to fix roads and bridges throughout the state. Governor Gianforte is slated to sign the SAFER Act on Monday, March 13. The success of this bill must be credited to the tremendous team who supported it including Larry Flynn (Montana Department of Transportation), Ryan Evans (Gov. Gianforte’s Office), Montana Logging Association, Montana Infrastructure Coalition, Montana Contractors Association, and Montana Trucking Association.

“Teamwork makes the dream work,” John Maxwell famously said – in my experience, this premise has always proven true. As legislators, we are ultimately a team tasked with an executing an intense full court press in the second half – and doing so with excellence. We can — and must — work together to execute meaningful legislation and bring home a win for all Montanans.

March 9 isn’t just a big day for House Appropriations — our Flathead Bravettes will be kicking off their bid for the state title that day, too. Go get ‘em this weekend in Butte, ladies!

Rep. Courtenay Sprunger, R-Kalispell.

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