House passes state budget for next two years on party lines

HELENA, Mont. - For the first time, Montanans are getting an idea of what the state budget will look like for the next two years, as members of the Montana House of Representatives spent the day debating it. 

The House spent over six hours debating more than six different sections that make up the $12.6B budget, which lawmakers passed on a 67-33 party line vote. As you can imagine, talking about money, especially at the state level, did not come without passion.

In the floor session, House Reps started the day by going over sections of the budget that include education, natural resources, and criminal justice. Republicans voted on party lines to strike down Democrat-proposed amendments, but passed some.

One of which includes $1M for firearms training at the Montana University System if HB 102 is upheld. Perhaps the most emotional amendment today considered adding a million dollars to the state's suicide prevention efforts. With Montana having the third highest suicide rate in the nation, one representative spoke about her own experiences.

"You cannot put a dollar amount on a life,” Rep. Rynalea Whiteman Pena (D-Lame Deer) said. My grandson's life was taken, because of whatever circumstances were in his life. 24 years old, a life feeling he was hopeless."

Republicans voted down the amendment-- saying the state already puts forth a considerable amount of time and money toward suicide prevention. Rep. Laurie Bishop (D-Livingston) also put out another amendment seeking to reestablish funding for a childcare support program called Stars for Quality.

"But quality childcare is also really important for working parents,” Bishop said. “And it’s especially important for us to be thinking about that right now, as we consider parents who are trying to reenter fully into the work force."

With regard to the state budget, it can be changed-- or agreed upon-- by the Senate or the Governor's office. On Tuesday, lawmakers will begin to decide how to spend $2.7B received from the federal government. 

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