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MT Democrats discuss bill priorities, roles on election security committee

The Montana legislature is hard at work as the 68th session is into its second week. (Photo: NBC Montana)
The Montana legislature is hard at work as the 68th session is into its second week. (Photo: NBC Montana)
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With the Montana Legislature now in its second week, Democratic leaders say they are excited about several bills that are being heard.

Including one involving coordinated local responses in the case of missing persons that had its first floor session today.

House Bill 18, sponsored by State Rep. Tyson Running Wolf (D-Browning), would establish a missing persons response team training grant program.

It sailed through the House Judiciary by a 19-0 vote, and on Tuesday afternoon, it cleared second reading on the House floor with no opposition.

“We think it is a really good bill for building a community response that is coordinated and funded when folks are missing,” said House Minority Leader State Rep. Kim Abbott (D-Helena).

Many of the bills going through hearings are part of Gov. Greg Gianforte’s red tape relief effort to decrease bureaucracy, and Democratic leaders say they are reviewing them closely.

“We’re really trying to see how those work together and where they might have an impact on each other,” said Rep. Abbott. “From our Vice Chairs, we’ve heard some concerns about opening up the same piece of code or things coming in and then amendments being requested and not being sure about whether stakeholders are good with the amendments. So we’re just trying to get a little bit of clarity on those bills.”

One bill that the minority leaders say they are looking forward to seeing get a fair shake involves providing financial relief to people seeking housing.

“That would require some reimbursement of application fees for rentals if folks didn’t get the actual rental,” said Rep. Abbott. “We heard from a lot of people, especially over from (Senate minority leader) Pat (Flowers of Belgrade’s) neck of the woods, about spending $500, $600 on rental application fees, and not getting an apartment, and not getting that money back.”

The bill draft, sponsored by State Rep. Kelly Kortum (D-Bozeman) is currently designated as LC1354, and Rep. Abbott says the bill should have its first hearing either late this week or early next week.

When it comes to the special committee on elections, which meets for the first time on Thursday. Abbott says they wanted to ensure their caucus had a voice. They believe Montana elections are safe and secure, and they plan on advocating for voters ability to access the ballot box.

“Fundamentally, Montana Democrats know that our elections are fair, they are well run, and they are secure,” said State Sen. Flowers. “We’ve heard that from our Secretary of State and we think accusations contrary to that are a waste of time and money at best. At worst, it can be an excuse to deny Montanans their rightful right to vote. We are participating, but we don’t see really a need for this. But we will participate.”

The Democrats assigned to the election security special committee are State Sen. Shane Morigeau (D-Missoula) and State Rep. Ed Stafman (D-Bozeman).

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