By Dennis Swibold
University of Montana School of Journalism
Legislators slowly filtered into Helena Monday after a four-day transmittal break. Most took the opportunity to visit their families and connect with constituents back home before heading in the session’s second half.
Reporters, meanwhile, are still sifting through the session’s first half. Erin Madison of the Great Falls Tribune took a shot at rounding up the bills pertaining to hunting, fishing and other outdoor issues – and there were more than a few.
Mike Dennison, who covers statehouse news for Montana’s Lee newspapers, discusses what will surely be one of the week’s major stories: the House Appropriations Committee’s attempt to hammer out the session’s main spending bill.
Republicans and Democrats haven’t tussled much over spending so far, Dennison explains, but they’ve yet to tackle big-ticket items such as raises for state employees, a solution for the state’s pension deficit, money for communities hard-hit by energy development, and the governor’s plan to build new state buildings.
Dennison also took a look at efforts to establish an Internet shopping center to help Montanans find health coverage at competitive rates. The idea is part of federal Affordable Health Care Act passed by Congress in 2010. Montana’s 2011 Legislature passed on the chance to create the so-called health insurance “exchange,” so the feds are doing the work.