Week 4 — Affordable Housing, Voting, Teacher Pay

The Session airs Monday mornings on Montana Public Radio at 7:50 a.m., and on Yellowstone Public Radio at 5:47 a.m. and 7:47 a.m. It’s also available online here or wherever you get your podcasts.

As of midday Jan. 22, 375 bills have been introduced, one bill has become law. This week, we’re watching policy that could impact housing, voting regulations and teacher pay.

House Bill 21 passed the House last week and is now heading to the Senate. The bill, carried by Rep. Geraldine Custer, a Republican from Forsyth, proposes to expand a program the Legislature passed last session, which lets the Montana Board of Housing use a portion of the state’s coal trust fund as a bank to offer low-interest loans to affordable housing developers.

HB 21 is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in Senate Finance and Claims. 

House Bill 134, sponsored by Missoula Democratic Rep. Danny Tenenbaum, would limit the zoning powers of Montana cities of 50,000 or more people to designate certain neighborhoods for only single-family homes. Tenenbaum argues that those zoning regulations put an artificial constraint on housing supply, driving up prices so that housing is less affordable than it would be if it was easier to convert homes in those neighborhoods to duplexes, triplexes or fourplexes.

HB 134 is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in House Local Government

Senate Bill 92 would disallow the appointment of county elections administrators, and instead require them to run for office in partisan elections. The bill is carried by Republican Sen. Gordon Vance of Belgrade.

SB 92 is scheduled for a hearing Monday in Senate State Administration

Senate Bill 93, also carried by Vance, would revise state laws on poll watchers to allow authorized poll watchers at mail ballot deposit locations. Current law allows one poll watcher from each political party to be stationed close to polling places in a location that does not interfere with election procedures. 

SB 93 is scheduled for a hearing Monday in Senate State Administration

House Bill 143 is carried by  Rep. Llew Jones, a Republican from Conrad. It would allocate about $2.5 million from the state’s general fund to create an incentive program for Montana school districts to pay starting teachers a higher salary. Montana currently ranks last in the country for starting teacher pay. Jones has been working with Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte on this bill. During his campaign, Gianforte made raising starting teacher pay a key promise, and the concept for House Bill 143 was outlined in Gianforte’s proposed budget. Those who lobby for public school interests are also backing the bill. 

HB 143 is scheduled for a hearing Monday in House Education