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Plan to spend $2B in federal COVID money moves forward in Senate

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A bill to spend $2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money inched forward in the Senate on Thursday, passing a preliminary vote in the same form as it emerged from a budget panel last week.

House Bill 632, appropriating money coming to the state from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, passed second reading 32-18, with a mix of Republicans and Democrats both supporting and opposing the measure.

Sen. Ryan Osmundson, a Buffalo Republican who chairs the Senate Finance and Claims Committee, carried the bill. Echoing previous comments from the bill’s House sponsor, Osmundson said that the bill’s ultimate form still needs to be worked out by a conference committee of the two chambers.

If it clears a final vote in the Senate, HB 632 will head back to the House. The House would then have to reject the Senate’s amendments to the bill to send it to a conference committee.

The only senator to speak during the discussion on the bill was Sen. Tom McGillvray, a Billings Republican, who denounced the federal ARPA legislation as “bankrupting this nation and putting us into perpetual debt.”

Osmundson responded by again noting that rejecting the money, as McGillvray suggested, wouldn’t go toward paying down the federal debut but would simply send that money to another state.

“I didn’t run, last I checked, for the U.S. Senate. I ran for the Montana Senate, and when the money came here they didn’t ask me necessarily whether I thought it was a good idea or a bad idea to have the U.S. government send us money,” Osmundson said. "I just know it's my job to make sure this (money) gets in the ground in the form of broadband, water, sewer, and it does the things it's meant to do."

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