Week 15 — Parental rights and competing tax bills for adult-use marijuana

As of midday Friday, 1,282 bills had been introduced and at least 153 had been signed into law. This week we’re watching the ideological split within the GOP over adult-use marijuana taxes, proposed changes to social safety net eligibility and parental rights.

With Senate Bill 100, Sen. Cary Smith, R-Billings,  proposes changes to the vetting process for public assistance programs. The policy is part of a broader tug of war over how the state should run social safety net programs like Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Smith says his proposed change would weed out fraud by increasing how often recipients are evaluated for program eligibility to every six months instead of the current annual, or continuous, eligibility supported by Democrats. Lawmakers have been mulling SB 100 since January. It’s awaiting a vote before the House Human Services Committee.

A handful of bills this session focus on child welfare and parental rights. House Bill 90 from Rep. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, would require district courts to hold hearings within five days of a child being removed from a home to determine whether there is probable cause to continue the removal. Initial court hearings are currently required within 20 days. In early legislative hearings on the bill, opponents flagged concerns that courts would not have the time or resources to implement expedited hearings, and said the bill conflicted with the required timetable for notifying tribes of upcoming hearings under the Indian Child Welfare Act. The bill has since been amended and has bipartisan support. HB 90 has cleared both chambers and is awaiting final approval of amendments by the House.

Senate Bill 16 from Sen. Jen Gross, D-Billings, would allow unaccompanied minors to seek shelter without parental consent. Proponents say the policy would make it easier for minors to access support when they are seeking safe shelter. Opponents say the policy should include notifications for law enforcement and parents and guardians, saying there are instances where parents should be contacted about the whereabouts of their child. The House Human Services Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on SB 16 Monday at 3 p.m.

Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Stevensville, is carrying Senate Bill 400, aimed at limiting government entities’ ability to interfere with parental rights to “direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of their children” unless the government can demonstrate that the restriction furthers a compelling government interest. The Senate passed the policy largely along party lines last week.

Lawmakers in the House last week forwarded several versions of proposed tax structures for adult-use marijuana, illustrating an ideological rift within the Republican Party. House Bill 701 from Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, would tax the drug at 20% and funnel revenue toward the state General Fund, with smaller slices going to conservation programs and a proposed addiction and treatment program. Kalispell Republican Rep. Derek Skees is offering a 15% tax option, House Bill 670, to fund state pensions, arguing the Legislature should fund existing programs instead of creating new ones to receive marijuana tax revenue. Other states that have legalized cannabis tax it as much as 37%

House lawmakers moved the suite of proposals last week ahead of a transmittal deadline, with Republicans largely in support and Democrats opposed. Given the tax revenue at stake, the bills could change considerably or get combined in some form in the Senate.