66th Legislature — 2019

The 66th Montana Legislature convened January 7 and adjourned April 25, 2019. Throughout the session the Center worked to track bills and provide updates on those relevant to the welfare of children and families in Montana. We also worked to endorse the use of education, data-driven decision-making, and research to promote evidence-based decision-making. 

What the Center was tracking:

75 bills relating to children and families

  • 20 bills were passed by the legislature and became law with the Governor's signature.
  • 41 Bills failed because they were tabled in committee. Bills tabled in committee ultimately fail by missing the deadline for transmittal between the chambers or when the legislature adjourns Sine Die. 
  • 9 Bills were voted down in a full vote in one of the chambers.
  • 4 bills passed by the legislature were ultimately vetoed by the governor.
  • 1 bill failed due to the legislature passing adjournment Sine Die. 

Source:  https://leg.mt.gov/

2019 session by the numbers, 3,324 total bill draft requests, 1309 bills introduced, 270,131 floor votes

2019 Legislative Session Updates


Want to see what's on the horizon for children and families in Montana, check out our policy brief on the 2019 Montana Legislative Session.

April 1st Updates

The Center has developed several policy briefs in support of evidenced-based policy-making in Montana. 

All policy briefs are available here.

Since first expanded in 2015, Medicaid now covers 96,000, or one in ten, Montanans. The House Human Services committee heard testimony and debate for nearly ten hours on two proposed bills. The House ultimately tabled Rep. Mary Caferros’ ‘Keep Montana Healthy Act’ (HB 425) choosing instead Rep. Ed Buttreys’ “Medicaid Reform and Integrity Act,” referred to as “MRIA” (HB 658).   MRIA adds work requirements, anticipated to reduce the number of those currently eligible for health care benefits.   

Though the term “Medicaid expansion” is still common in the halls of the Capitol building, neither of the competing bills proposed expanding Medicaid. Democrats held firm to the policy stance of maintaining coverage for the 96,000 Montanans and businesses relying on Medicaid for health care needs. Republicans asserted that the program was too expansive and claimed reducing eligibility was necessary to save healthcare costs and focus on those with most need. The House floor debate resolved with passage of HB 658 — with work requirements as the determinant factor. Meanwhile, federal courts nearly simultaneously struck down similar work requirements passed in other states.

Much has been written on the debate around Medicaid coverage and its effects on Montanans, for more read this analysis from the Montana Free Press. The Center is hopeful that the debate moving forward will work to examine the causes that leave one in ten Montanans needing Medicaid to meet their healthcare needs.

In the final week of March the legislature voted against implementing a statewide pre-kindergarten education program that would benefit more than 3,000 four-year-olds. The House Education Committee voted to table HB 225, the Governor’s proposal carried by Rep. Schreiner, to fund preschool in public schools. They also voted to table HB 755, Rep. Eric Moore’s proposal to continue STARS Preschool and MPDG Classrooms for one year and then invest $11 million per year going forward in the School-Ready Preschool program.


“Thousands of four-year-olds and their families will go without preschool all because of petty politics and special interests that no longer represent the best interests of our youngest Montanans. I’m not just deeply disappointed, I’m disgusted. After years of statewide efforts to grow preschool classrooms and show that investing in our kids is absolutely critical to our future, two Democrats joined seven Republicans in killing a path to make preschool permanent. It is clear that today false information from lobbyists won the day rather than Montana families. I commend the five Democrats and three Republicans who put four-year-olds above special interests. As always, I will never stop fighting for preschool for Montana – and that includes for the remainder of this session.”

Expert from a March 27th press release from Governor Bullock

With only one month left in the session, it appears Montana will remain one of only six states without a comprehensive preschool program. In other states, every dollar invested has been determined to provide a return on investment of between four to seven dollars. Research is clear that attending quality preschool is a reliable indicator of success for high school graduation, college entry, staying out of prison, and earning a living wage. The Center is hopeful that the legislature may revisit this decision as well as commit to further study of how best to address early childhood needs during the interim.


The budget in House Bill 2 moved to the Senate in March where it was considered by the Senate Finance and Claims committee before moving to the full Senate for debate. The budget restored many of the funds cut out of Medicaid and community-based services over the past two years, funded in part through the reduction of more than 100 positions at the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The committee did add $6.25 million to the K-12 education budget but rejected an amendment to add $22 million for the Governors Pre-K proposal.

At the beginning of March, a handful of suicide bills all failed to pass committee, but efforts to fund suicide prevention programming in Montana have been renewed through Rep. Jessica’s Karjalas’ HB 696. This bill would appropriate $500,000 to fund existing programs to address Montana’s alarming rate of suicide (ranked the worst in the nation). The House has passed and transmitted this bill to the Senate where it will be debated further this month.

Rep. Lenz introduced HB 583 providing the state with a valuable opportunity to measure the outcomes of mental health services for youth receiving targeted case management services. The measure has moved to the full Senate for debate.

Rep. Kim Dudik successfully moved HB400 through the House to the Senate providing incentives for families who use their cash assistance from the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) program to purchase fruits and vegetables.

Substance Use


Senator Sands’ SB 289, encourages pregnant women to seek substance use treatment without fear of legal repercussions. The bill is an important effort to help Montana curb opioid addictions and protect families. However, the legislature did not support additional efforts to address the opioid crisis.  Senator Roger Webb’s SB 322 (a tax on wholesale providers of opioids); and Tom Winter’s HB 771, (medication assisted treatment) both failed.


SB 30, Sen. Jen Gross, proposed funding peer support services through the Medicaid program. The bill passed through the Senate and was recently revived after being temporarily tabled in the House. Peer support is an effective model for treating co-occurring substance use disorder and other mental health issues.


Finally, Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy has proposed an interim study of the effects of drugs on infants HJR 32, to be acted on later this month.

Representative Karjala HB 604 directs the Department of Public Health and Human Services to develop a strategic plan to implement the Families First Prevention Services Act. The bill has passed the House, its first Senate committee, and will now move to the Senate floor. The FFPSA potentially generates new federal funds to support families and reduce the reliance on foster care placements.

More than 100 callers from across Montana have taken advantage of this opportunity to speak directly to lawmakers working on some of the most impactful legislation this session including Medicaid expansion, education, and disability services. Groups from the disability rights community, school districts across the state, and concerned individuals have been regular callers to our weekly conference.

March 1st Updates

The Center has developed several policy briefs in support of evidenced-based policy-making in Montana. 

All policy briefs are available on our website by following the link here.

Introduced early, efforts to fund pre-k education are still being considered by the body.

HB 177 - Transmitted to the Senate - Rep. Fred Anderson’s bill would allow school districts to use equalization aid to fund preschool programs.

The STARS public preschool pilot program - Funding not included - This pilot proved effective in the districts where it has been implemented and received.The funding, administered through the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) budget, was eliminated in the committee’s executive action despite strong support for extending funding in public comment periods.

HB 225 - in first committee - Rep. Casey Schreiner is sponsoring the Governor’s sweeping pre-k proposal. The bill would (1) fund general school’s inflationary rate, (2) fund special education inflationary rate and wrap the increase into the general increase for the future, (3) fund the quality educator loan assistance program, and (4) provide statutory changes that would allow for statewide public preschool. House Bill 2 (the Governor’s budget proposal), has advanced without the necessary funding to enact this policy. For timely and informative updates on the Governor’s early education policy contact Siri Smilie, Education policy advisor to the Governor, at SSmillie@mt.gov.

Transmittal marks the end of the joint appropriations sub-committee process. So far, the appropriations process has been generally in favor for children and families in Montana, with the exception of pre-k education. The subcommittee on human services for section B of the budget worked successfully to restore funding to a significant proportion of the cuts made to services across the state during the last biennium. The process will continue with review by the full House Appropriations Committee.

Various legislators proposed and/or submitted bill requests for more than a dozen approaches to address suicide prevention in Montana. DPHHS hosted a luncheon to bring attention to ongoing success driven by 2017 legislative funding. Despite this effort, no bills were supported by committee action and transmitted. It is uncertain if the legislature will act to fund direct prevention services this session. It is still possible to introduce measures that would appropriate funds to prevention efforts and at least one lawmaker has indicated they intend to do so. Montana continues to suffer from the highest suicide rate in the nation.

Bills affecting Montana’s children and families have also emerged from the following committees: Education (preschool); Human Services (child protective services); Judiciary (child custody); Labor and Industry (family medical leave) and Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (suicide prevention information in hunter’s safety courses). Understanding the broad nature of child and family issues the Center is watching the proposals listed here.

HB 583 - Transmitted to Senate - sponsored by Rep. Lenz, this bill would measure three outcomes of targeted case management services for children: is a child (1) in school,

(2) at home, and (3) out of trouble? As a measure of children's well-being following treatment, this evaluation would allow for the creation of actionable data which the legislature could use to continue developing policy based on observations of the effectiveness of services.

HB 208 - Tabled - Provide for family medical leave. Would cover leave for new births and sick family members.

HB 288 - Transmitted to Senate - ABLE Act revisions that would allow certain family members to receive tax credits when contributing to an ABLE account.

HB 388 - Transmitted to Senate - Revises Education laws for students with exceptional needs opening more funds up to school districts.

HB 434- Transmitted to Senate - Revises laws for insurance coverage of autism therapy services.

HB 290 - Transmitted to Senate - Would require child support cooperation for eligibility of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), updates language.

SB 216 - In committee - Revises laws for the Child and Family Ombudsman updating investigation reporting requirements.

SB 209 - In committee - This bill would require the provision of services from the Department of Health and Human Services in counties of a certain size.

HB 79 - Transmitted to Governor - Strengthens TANF work requirements by requiring the state to use workforce information to determine eligibility.

HB 408, HB 409, HB 410 - Tabled or voted down - Presented as a package, these would have restricted the role of child protective service workers and narrowed Montana’s approach to CPS. They received significant attention and ultimately failed.

Three bills in the Senate are attempting to address reimbursement rates, regulations, and an inflationary wage increase for developmental disability (DD) direct care workers, ● SB 4, SB 5, and SB 7 respectively. Presented by Senators Olszewski and Sands, only SB 4 and SB 5 are still alive.

HB 26 - In first committee - From Rep. Gordon Pierson would appropriate a large amount of money to fund a wage increase for DD direct care workers.

HB 561 - Transmitted to Senate - Sponsored by Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, this bill directs courts to consider the best interests of the child, specifically, giving more consideration to fathers in custody hearings.

HB 335 - Transmitted to Senate - and HB 189 - Tabled - Brought by Rep. Connie Keogh and Rep. Kim Dudik, this bill would allow for parenting plans to be amended based on the age and development of a child.

Substance use disorders often have a dramatic impact on the healthy functioning of a family and development of children. Here are some of the bills proposed to address substance use in Montana:

SB 30 - Transmitted to House - Sponsored by Sen. Jen Gross, this bill would allow peer support services to be reimbursed under Medicaid.

HB 309 - Tabled - and SB 289 - Transmitted to House - These bills would encourage pregnant mothers dealing with a Substance Use Disorder to seek treatment by offering a safe harbor exemption from legal penalties of drug use for seeking treatments.

Finally, SB 280, - Missed transmittal deadline- sponsored by Senator Al Olszewski, this bill would establish rules, insurance coverage, and facility requirements for medication assisted treatment for Substance Use Disorder to address the opioid use epidemic.

The debate on Medicaid coverage will continue to headline the 66th Legislative Session. The two bills represent the two sides of the debate. HB 425, Rep. Mary Cafferro’s proposal is to eliminate the sunset on Montana’s current Medicaid system and continue as is. Rep. Ed Buttrey’s proposal, which has not yet been introduced, would continue Medicaid with decreased enrollment by adding work and eligibility requirements. Currently, 1 in 10 Montanans, or 95,000 people, qualify for and are covered under Medicaid. In the Buttrey proposal, it is likely that one third of those people would lose healthcare coverage.

 Within this debate to keep current Medicaid coverage or restrict it, beliefs over the effectiveness of current policy, the need for closer review of eligibility standards, or more bluntly, the desire to prioritize funding for purposes other than health care, will begin to enter the conversation. With that discussion beginning to take shape, we pose the question of what underlying issues lead to one out of every ten Montanans qualifying for and needing publicly funded healthcare, and what is being done to address those social issues? Additionally, if Rep. Buttrey’s proposal does pass, what will be the plight and the plan for those whose health care benefits will be eliminated?

The Department of Public Health and Human Services is moving forward with preparation and planning of FFPSA. The Center continues to support these efforts and will be involved in engaging stakeholders from across the state to provide input on the process. See the Center’s website at: Implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act in Montana.

Rep. Karjala sponsored HB 604 reflecting legislative support and buy-in to Montana’s Family First Prevention Services Act. The bill requires a strategic plan and report to the legislature ahead of 2021 that will allow planning and funding of prevention services for Montana’s at-risk children. 

More than 100 callers from across Montana have taken advantage of this opportunity to speak directly to lawmakers working on some of the most impactful legislation this session including Medicaid expansion, education, and disability services. Groups from the disability rights community, school districts across the state, and concerned individuals have been regular callers to our weekly conference.

February 1st Updates

Governor Bullock has made expanding access to quality preschool one of his top priorities for the legislative session. The Governor’s proposal has two components:

  • $8 million to build upon STARS Preschool pilot at DPHHS, serving at least 400 children through preschool programs in Head Start and high-quality private and community-based providers. Competitive grants will be awarded to programs that meet program requirements. The Governor has requested this component be added to HB 2 (the budget bill) in the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

  • HB 225, sponsored by Representative Casey Schreiner. This bill is the Governor’s comprehensive school funding proposal that would allow school districts to receive formula funding four-year-old children enrolled in preschool programs. $22 million over the biennium to include four-year-old children in the state’s school funding formula. Under this model, any public school that voluntarily chooses to offer a high-quality preschool program will receive funding for every eligible student who enrolls. This requires statutory changes and will be in a separate bill -- hearing is scheduled on Monday, February 4 at 3 PM in Montana State Capitol Room 137.

    A great way to stay up to date on these efforts is to subscribe to the weekly update from the Governor’s Office. Sign up by emailing Siri Smilie (ssmillie@mt.gov) and ask to be added to the list.

        Other early childhood bills:

    • HB 113 (Rep. Farris-Olsen) which would have aligned Montana child care laws with federal laws and would have strengthened standards for early child care facilities, but was tabled in committee and is likely dead. Of note is the opposition to this bill brought forward by those opposing vaccinations of our children.

    • HB 177 (Rep. Anderson) would open a new source of funding for school districts to support preschool programs within their elementary schools. The money would come from state equalization aid which is currently restricted from being used to fund preschool.

HB 186 - The Montana Suicide Mortality Review Team Report named depression screenings as one of its top legislative priorities and this bill was introduced to start a mental health screening pilot program. This bill has passed out of the Human Services Committee and is now scheduled for a hearing in the House Appropriations committee as it carries a $1 million fiscal note.

HB 187 would revise laws related to youth suicide prevention and establish evaluation criteria for youth suicide prevention grants. The bill would appropriate 1.6 million to be made available in the form of grants available to communities for the purpose of implementing evidence-based suicide prevention programming. This bill has been tabled in committee and will not be considered unless reconsidered in committee or the house votes to consider the bill on the floor.

HB 309 - This bill would appropriate funds to develop a grant program through DPHHS that would create local voluntary treatment programs for pregnant women affected by drug addiction. Proponents of this legislation say it would encourage pregnant mothers to seek out treatment for substance use addiction without fear of prosecution or separation of their child. The bill was heard in Judiciary Committee on Feb 4th.
With one in ten Montanans relying on Medicaid for healthcare, Medicaid expansion will likely become an important topic for the 66th Legislature. One of the bills before the legislature is Rep. Caferro’s HB 83 which would eliminate the current sunset date for the Montana HELP Act and remove reporting to the oversight committee. Another proposal by Rep. Buttrey would expand Medicaid while adding asset tests and work requirements. This bill has not yet been assigned a bill number.

The Center will be supporting DPHHS in its budget presentations as part of our efforts to support the Child and Family Services Division workforce (link to brief) and implementation of Family First Prevention Services Act.

Over the first few weeks of the legislature, the appropriations committee has been considering HB 2 which details the budget plans for the next two years. In that time, the committee and it’s various subcommittees have heard proposals to fund a variety of programs and department budgets. While conversations on Montana’s budget often revolve around limiting expenses another important part of the equation is increasing revenue for the state. The Montana legislature has not been favorable to any revenue or tax increases in recent sessions. Identifying and supporting new revenue to pay for crucial services is critically important to the welfare of Montana’s children and families. Because of revenue shortfalls last year, the legislature enacted budget cuts that severely cut public services and disproportionately impacted rural parts of our state.

One approach that would benefit Montana families is a proposal to raise the minimum wage. Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell HB 345 that would do just that by raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.

The Center has developed several policy briefs in support of evidenced based policy making in Montana. They are available on our website by following the links below: