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Parties name affordable housing, cost of living, childcare as priorities at legislative session

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HELENA — As the 68th Montana Legislature gets into full swing in Helena, party leaders say affordable housing, the cost of living, access to childcare and reducing red tape will be some of the top issues lawmakers will attempt to tackle in the 90-day session. 

Republicans hold control of the governor’s office and the Legislature, and in the Legislature, they hold what is called a “super majority” with 68 of the 100 House seats and 34 of the 50 Senate seats.

Republican party leaders often used the phrase “conservative mandate” during the first week of the session, referring to their historic wins in the 2022 election.

“We will embrace Montana family values and further protect those individual rights and liberties that we all share and all enjoy,” Senate Majority Leader Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls said.

Fitzpatrick said reducing regulation on businesses will be one of his caucus’ main priorities, taking the lead from Gov. Greg Gianforte’s “red tape relief” initiative.

There are more 100 bills that deal with red tape laws on businesses, and about 20 have already been heard by committee, according to reporting from Jonathon Ambarian of KTVH. 

Committees from both chambers saw 10 bills on revising alcohol law, and licensing in the first week. 

“Reducing these regulations will help us unleash the full potential of Montana’s economy,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick said tax relief across will also be a priority, especially when it comes to deciding how to use the state’s historic $2 billion surplus. Fitzpatrick also named education, passing a conservative budget, addressing the affordable housing crisis, and dealing with the increasing inflation as session goals.

Republican leaders hope to pay off state bonds to eliminate the state’s debt.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gianforte unveiled his plans for $1 billion in tax relief, which would decrease the income tax rate from 6.5% to 5.9%, along with giving Montanans $1,000 in property tax relief for each citizen’s primary residence. His plan would also implement a $1,200 tax credit for children under six. 

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders outlined some of the issues on which they see common ground, like affordable housing, and promised to work with the majority in addressing those. 

“Although our methods may be as varied as our upbringing, our goal is the same: a thriving, healthy, and resilient state,” said Senate Minority Leader Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade.

Democrats also said they won’t back down on other issues, particularly on issues like access to abortion and the rights to privacy and a clean and healthful environment protected in Montana’s constitution. 

“There’s a lot of responsibility in having majorities in both chambers of the Legislature and the same party in the governor’s office; you have to govern,” House Minority Leader Rep. Kim Abbott, D-Helena, said. “Where we disagree, and we think that your policies aren’t meeting the needs of our constituents, we’re going to hold you accountable.”

Democrats gave out pamphlets the first week of the session titled “Putting Montana’s Money to Work.” It outlined areas of concern and suggestions for improvement.

The pamphlet named affordable housing, childcare, and healthcare, along with education, reproductive rights, mental health, and others, as key issues.

Both parties continuously mentioned the housing crisis plaguing Montana renters and homeowners.

“Montanans can’t afford housing and childcare; as a result, businesses can’t find employees, and support services can’t keep up,” Flowers said.

Democrats have proposed a plan to pay $500 million to developers and nonprofits to build housing that renters and homeowners can afford. Another plan provides tax credits to landlords who offer rentals below market rates.

“We know that our state is facing significant challenges around access to childcare, access to affordable housing. We know that affects our business communities,” Abbott said.

Caven Wade is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation. He can be reached at

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