We’re officially halfway through the 2019 legislative session, and it seems like these first 45 days have gone by in a flash.
Reflecting on the last two months, Democrats in the Legislature can look back and be proud of our accomplishments. House Democrats have led with solutions and delivered on our goals of making health care more affordable and accessible, holding government accountable to Montanans, and investing in Montana’s workers and economy. We’ve sent the Montana Senate several great pieces of legislation that, if passed, would make a real difference in the lives of Montana families.
We’ve passed a bill out of the House to require pharmacy benefit managers — the “middle men” who are sometimes the culprit of soaring prescription drug costs — to be more transparent about their pricing and provide relief to the thousands of Montanans who can’t afford their medication. We’ve also passed a bill to create a drug takeback day, so Montanans can safely dispose of their unneeded, and often addictive, prescription drugs.
House Democrats have also been hard at work to make sure Montanans are earning good wages and can afford their basic daily necessities. In the first 45 days, House Democrats passed bills to establish an affordable housing loan program, secure a wage increase for state employees, and prevent employers from retaliating against employees for freely discussing their wages or choosing not to disclose their prior salaries.
Our caucus strongly believes that an investment in our teachers and students is an investment in the future of our state. In the first half of the session, Democrats also moved legislation to provide a base level of funding to our public schools, a bill to allow students with disabilities additional time to earn their high school diplomas and we also secured a tuition freeze for students at the Montana University System.
The Montana American Indian Caucus also has an extensive list of accomplishments to celebrate. They have rolled up their sleeves and passed several bills to seek justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, one of which has already been signed into law by Governor Steve Bullock. The representatives in the Indian Caucus have also passed several bills to preserve Montana’s cultural heritage, including measures to invest in critically important language immersion programs.
Still, despite the hard work we’ve put in so far, Montana families are left waiting to see what will happen on critically important issues like rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, funding special education and public preschool, and protecting health care for the one in 10 Montanans who are enrolled in Medicaid.
The clock is ticking on Montana’s Medicaid expansion program, and the health care of 95,000 Montanans hangs in the balance if lawmakers don’t reach an agreement by June 1.
Our bridges, pipes, roads and schools are crumbling, and we need to pass a bill that creates thousands of good Montana jobs this year to repair them.
Teachers and students are still waiting to see if their Legislature will fund public preschool, special education and teacher recruitment and retention for our rural schools.
Our work is far from over.
Montana legislators only have 90 days every two years to fight for the future of this incredible state. House Democrats are keenly aware of the ticking clock on accomplishing our goals, but we are confident we can do right by Montana families if we roll up our sleeves and work hard.
Democrats have our work cut out for us over the final 45 days — but in a Legislature where we only make up 42 of the 100 lawmakers in the House, we can’t do it alone.
We call on our Republican legislators to join us in leading with solutions, and pass these bipartisan, popular proposals to better the lives of Montanans across the state. Let’s get it done.
Rep. Casey Schreiner, D-Great Falls, represents House District 26 in the Montana Legislature and is the House minority leader.