HELENA — Now that House Bill 2, the major budget bill for the session, has been passed by the Montana House of Representatives, the Senate Finance Committee will begin scrutinizing it on Thursday.
All appropriations bills must move from one house to the other by Saturday, or they will automatically die. As it turns out, many already are dead because of the lack of uncommitted money at the session.
Here are some of the other major hearings, by subject, scheduled at the Legislature this week:
—ALCOHOL TAX. The House Taxation Committee on Monday hears HB751, by Rep. Christopher Harris, D-Bozeman, to raise the tax on alcoholic beverages to help fund certain health programs.
—CAMPAIGN FINANCE. On Tuesday, the House State Administration Committee will solicit testimony on SB423, by Sen. Jerry Black, R-Shelby, to raise the various limits on how much people and political action committees can give to candidates for statewide and legislative offices.
The House State Administration seeks testimony on Thursday on HB753, by Rep. Rosie Buzzas, D-Missoula, to revamp Montana campaign laws to set up a voluntary public campaign finance system. The panel also will consider SB452, by Sen. Mike Taylor, R-Rollins, to expand and delineate what constitutes the crime of political libel.
—COAL TAX. The Senate Taxation Committee on Thursday will hear SB479, by Sen. Jim Elliott, D-Trout Creek, to raise the coal severance tax if the coal industry fails to produce 40 million tons a year.
—CONSERVATION EASEMENTS. The House Natural Resources Committee on Monday takes up SB725, by Rep. Rick Maedje, R-Fortine, which would require land trusts operating in Montana to register as "encumbrance brokers" if they seek to place conservation easements on property.
—DRIVER LICENSES. The House Transportation Committee is seeking comments Monday on SB295, by Sen. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, to provide an optional method of driving instruction for youths that are home-schooled. On Tuesday, the Senate Highways Committee hears HB226, by Rep. Kim Gillan, D-Billings, to provide for graduated teen drivers licenses.
—EASTMONT HUMAN SERVICES CENTER. The House Appropriations Committee on Monday hears HB727, by Rep. Edith Clark, R-Sweetgrass, to close this center for the developmentally disabled in Glendive and transfer the facility to the state Corrections Department.
—GAMBLING. The House Taxation Committee has tentatively scheduled a hearing for Thursday on HB757, by Rep. John Witt, R-Carter, that would create a special music and entertainment district in Butte that would include 10 casinos with wide-open gambling.
—HOUSING. The House Business and Labor Committee on Thursday takes up SB430, by Sen. Jon Ellingson, D-Missoula, to revamp the state's landlord-tenant law.
—HUNTING. On Tuesday, the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee hears SB395, by Sen. Gary Perry, R-Manhattan, to allow the sport hunting of bison as a management tool.
—JURIES. The House Education Committee on Monday hears HB540, by Rep. Dave Gallik, D-Helena, to expand the jury pool to include those with drivers licenses as well as registered voters.
—MENTAL HEALTH. The House Human Services Committee on Monday takes up a pair of bills by Senate President Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork: SB347, to revise public mental health services laws, and SB348, to regulate behavioral health inpatient facilities.
—PRESCRIPTION DRUGS. On Monday, the Senate Finance Committee takes up SB473, by Sen. Jim Elliott, D-Trout Creek, to provide a prescription drug program under Medicaid for eligible elderly and disabled people. The same committee on Wednesday hears SB474, by Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, to establish a private-sector, insurance-based prescription drug program for eligible elderly people.
—PROPERTY TAXES. The House Taxation Committee on Tuesday hears HB754, by Rep. Hal Jacobson, D-Helena, to impose a 20 percent property tax surcharge on residential properties owned by people who don't file Montana income taxes to defray state government costs in providing emergency services to the property.
On Thursday, the Senate Taxation Committee will hear SB482, by Sen. Keith Bales, R-Otter, for a proposed constitutional amendment to require the state property tax to be refundable.
—PRIVATE PRISONS. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday hears HB451, by Rep. Edith Clark, R-Sweetgrass, to authorize out-of-state inmates at the private prison in Shelby.
—PUBLIC INFORMATION. The House State Administration Committee on Thursday takes up SB142, by Sen. Walter McNutt, R-Sidney, to allow state government to withhold from disclosure certain information if the release is pre-empted by federal law or it the release is deemed to threaten the safety of an elected public official or the privacy of a public employee who has tried to keep private personal information in his individual capacity.
—REVENUE DEPARTMENT COMPUTER SYSTEM. The House Appropriations Committee will hear a pair of bills Tuesday addressing the Department of Revenue's trouble-plagued computer system called POINTS. SB271, by Sen. Corey Stapleton, R-Billings, would eliminate the POINTS system, which legislators estimate has cost the state at least $55 million. HB762, by Rep. John Brueggeman, R-Polson, would issue general obligation bonds up to $17 million for the Revenue Department to get a replacement computer system.