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Montana Lawmakers Propose Bills Tied to Federal Emergency Aid, Pandemic Regulations

Montana Republican Rep. Caleb Hinkle presents House Bill 158 during a House State Administration Committee meeting on Jan. 19, 2021.
Montana Public Affairs Network
Montana Republican Rep. Caleb Hinkle presents House Bill 158 during a House State Administration Committee meeting on Jan. 19, 2021.

A Montana legislative committee today heard testimony on two bills spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. The proposals involve federal relief spending and regulations waived during the current state of emergency.

Republican Rep. Caleb Hinkle of Belgrade proposed a bill that would create a commission to study whether to permanently revoke regulations temporarily suspended during the pandemic.

Hinkle told the House State Administration Committee that the commission would weigh the benefits and costs of roughly 130 statutes related to truck driving, alcohol delivery and telemedicine, among other things.

“HB 158 is an important step to addressing the ever growing regulatory burden on Montana by cleaning up regulations that are not needed," he said.

Under House Bill 158, the commission of lawmakers, state agency officials, business figures and other members of the public would meet at least quarterly and present recommendations when the next legislative session begins in 2023.

Conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity Montana supported the proposal during Tuesday’s meeting, along with another bill that would give lawmakers more power to spend federal emergency grants in between legislative sessions.

Republican Rep. Llew Jones of Conrad told the committee that the Legislature has ceded too much appropriations power to the executive branch.

Republican legislative leaders have said former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock didn’t seek their input when deciding how to spend $1.2 billion in federal coronavirus relief during the Legislature’s interim period last year.

“As a person that worked through and was involved in appropriations in this emergency, I can say that the Legislature was not at the table. And this would ensure that they are," Jones said.

House Bill 159 would require a legislative committee to poll lawmakers on whether to accept a governor’s plan to spend federal emergency grants exceeding 5 percent of the state general fund, which was $108 million last year.

Jones said the coronavirus pandemic is the only emergency that would’ve required legislative spending approval under the proposed framework over the last 30 years.

The House State Administration Committee hasn’t yet scheduled a vote on house bills 158 or 159.

Kevin Trevellyan is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America statehouse reporter.