Panel votes to cut $23M from Montana higher education budget
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A legislative panel is recommending a $23 million cut in Montana’s higher education budget over the next two years.
Thursday’s vote by the Joint Subcommittee on Education is the first step in finalizing the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education’s 2018-2019 budget. The House Appropriations Committee will incorporate the work of various subcommittees into a draft of the overall budget bill.
OCHE deputy commissioner Tyler Trevor says if the cuts stand, it could mean a 20 percent tuition hike to make up the difference. The Independent Record reports that would cost in-state college students about $1,000 extra a year.
The Republican-led Legislature is trying to fix a budget shortfall by cutting spending across state government. Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock has proposed more modest cuts, combined with tax increase and one-time fund transfers.
Montana AIDS organization closing down
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Montana organization dedicated to helping AIDS patients for nearly 30 years is closing its doors.
The Billings Gazette reports that the Yellowstone AIDS Project announced Wednesday it will dissolve by Feb. 27.
A board member for the organization, Julie Burton, says the move was in response to significant improvements in HIV/AIDS treatment, duplication of services and changing needs of clients.
The organization was formed in 1990 by the merger of the Billings AIDS Support Network and the Billings AIDS Task Force.
The Yellowstone AIDS Project had partnerships with Planned Parenthood Montana, the state health department and other agencies.
The organization says it has provided support services to more than 160 people.
It plans to work with other community groups to transition grant funds and programs for current clients.
Legislative panel rejects special education funding increase
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A legislative committee has voted down an increase in special education funding that had already won a floor vote in the Montana House.
The measure by Democratic Rep. Kathy Kelker of Billings would cost $6 million over the next two years. The increase would cover the cost of inflation and raise reimbursements for the cooperatives that serve more than a third of special education students in Montana.
The bill was recommended by an interim committee that studied the equity and adequacy of school funding. It passed unanimously out of the House Education Committee and was endorsed without debate by the House Wednesday on a 63-37 vote.
Instead of going to a final vote on the House floor, the bill was re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee.
The committee voted 12-10 against the bill Thursday without any discussion.
Montana Senate OKs constitutional amendment on regulations
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Senate is calling for a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to overturn federal regulations.
The resolution by Republican Sen. Duane Ankney of Colstrip would require either the U.S. House or Senate to vote on a proposed federal regulation if a quarter of the members of either chamber opposes it.
Ankney says the idea is to rein in the thousands of federal regulations that are passed each year.
Democratic Sen. Cynthia Wolken of Missoula says giving a small number of lawmakers the power to force a vote on every regulation would only add to the gridlock in Congress.
The Senate approved the resolution 33-16 on Thursday.
If the House approves it, copies of the resolution will be sent to President Donald Trump, each member of Congress and legislative leaders in every state.
House endorses new judges for Missoula, Yellowstone counties
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana House has given initial approval to a measure that would increase the number of judges in Yellowstone and Missoula counties.
The House voted 99-1 Thursday to give Yellowstone County two new district judges and Missoula County one. The bill must pass a final vote before it goes to the Senate.
Republican Rep. Jeff Essmann of Billings says the aim is to ease the case backlog in those counties.
Last year, a special commission rejected a proposal to re-draw its 22 districts to more evenly distribute the work of 46 judges.
Instead, Essmann introduced his bill that originally would have added five new judges. That number was reduced to three.
The bill is contingent on lawmakers providing funding for the judges, their assistants and operating expenses.
Lawmakers propose delaying closure of developmental center
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Two Montana lawmakers are sponsoring bills aimed at delaying the closure of a residential facility for people with developmental disabilities who have been determined by a court to pose a risk of serious harm to themselves or others.
The House Human Services Committee heard a bill Wednesday that would keep the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder open for another two years and maintain a 12-bed intensive behavioral center for clients who need to be stabilized before being placed in group homes.
Another bill seeking to delay the closure would direct the state to seek a change in Medicaid reimbursements for services provided to those with developmental disabilities.
Lawmakers voted in 2015 to close the center and move its then-53 residents to community-based settings by June 2017. The center currently has 25 residents, including 12 in a locked facility.