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Montana Democrats deliver; Republicans waste session

by Pat Flowers and Kim Abbott
| May 7, 2023 12:00 AM

The 68th session of the State Legislature has ended, but the harm done by a Republican supermajority drunk on power will continue to be felt for a long time.

From the very beginning of the session, Montana Democrats made it clear that our priority was fighting for long-term solutions for our state’s working families. We introduced a set of bills to achieve that goal: cutting taxes for Montana working families, investing in housing real Montanans can afford, strengthening nursing homes and community health care providers, providing long term property tax relief; and defending Montanans’ constitutional rights to reproductive freedom.

But while we were hard at work trying to lower costs for working Montanans, Republicans spent their time blowing a billion dollars on handouts to the wealthy, ignoring the real crises facing Montana families and workers, and instead wasting time trying to pass anti-worker legislation and unconstitutional attacks on Montanans’ liberties and personal privacy.

As Montana Democrats, we fought to hold the Republican supermajority accountable for these attacks, and in some places we succeeded. Despite Republicans’ reckless drive to tear up our state’s Constitution, we defeated every amendment they proposed to chip away at the rights that the Constitution defends. We took down the Republicans’ 21 anti-worker bills, staving off union-busting for another two years and defending Montana workers’ right to organize for better pay and fair working conditions.

Montana Democrats fought tirelessly for a fair budget that works for Montana families. While the Republicans’ and the Governor’s budget failed to meet the scale of the crisis facing Montana, our Democratic legislators fought tooth and nail to scrape a few wins out of that budget for Montanans. We secured investments in pressing needs, like removing lead from drinking water in schools and increasing reimbursement rates for nursing homes and community health care providers. It wasn’t easy, but it was our priority to secure these wins for our constituents.

Meanwhile, the Republicans launched an unprecedented assault on the foundational principles of our democracy. They passed bills to limit our freedom of speech and expression. They rolled back Constitutional guarantees for public education, privacy, and a clean and healthful environment. And they limited participation in our democratic process, not just when they ejected one of our members from the floor of the House of Representatives, but when they closed that House to the public to whom it belongs.

While Republicans were fighting these pointless and harmful crusades, they ignored the true scale of the housing crisis, the need for long-term property tax relief, nursing home closures, and child care deserts. While Democrats worked hard to make progress on addressing these crises, Republicans proved that there are no limits to the lengths they will go to consolidate their power over every aspect of Montanans’ lives. They focused their energies on attacking the freedoms of Montana’s women; Montana’s LGBTQ+ community; Montana’s health care providers, Montana’s educators and librarians, and Montana’s business owners.

Despite holding a minority of seats, Montana Democrats delivered real solutions for Montana workers and families. We passed bills that were bipartisan, fiscally responsible, and directly focused on the real problems hitting Montanans in our wallets. Our bills will expand access to child care and stabilize care providers; stem the tide of nursing homes closing their doors; protect mobile home residents from abuses by landowners looking to make a quick buck on their backs; improve mental health crisis interventions by first responders; combat the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people; get poisonous lead out of school drinking water; and strengthen teacher recruitment in rural and understaffed schools.

We wanted to do a heck of a lot more, but Republicans were not interested in practical solutions for working Montanans. Over the next two years, we’ll keep fighting to mitigate the harm from this session, and to make further progress on making this state a place where everyone has the freedom and the opportunity to live a life of success and happiness.

Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, is Minority Leader in the Montana State Senate; Rep. Kim Abbott, D-Helena, is Minority Leader in the Montana House of Representatives.

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