New laws already having a positive impact
The 2023 legislative session wrapped up less than five months ago. Many bills don’t go into effect until Oct. 1 of this year, Jan. 1 of next year, or later. But several of the bills that became law this spring and summer are already having a noticeable impact in Montana.
Perhaps the most stark example of this is prosecuting human trafficking. Before the 2023 Legislature, no one had ever been convicted under Montana’s old laws against human trafficking, with the outdated laws not providing law enforcement the tools they needed. That changed in July when prosecutors in Gallatin County charged 18 people on prostitution and human trafficking counts.
What was the reason for the sudden change? House Bill 112 by Billings Republican Rep. Jodee Etchart, which strengthened Montana’s laws against human trafficking and went into effect on April 19.
Also on the matter of public safety, the vacancy rate of prison guard and correctional officer positions at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge has been reduced by about half since the Legislature enacted pay increases and made a major investment in the prison’s infrastructure.
Housing is another area of concern that’s beginning to see positive impacts from work done in the recent legislative session. Cities are updating their zoning codes to be more friendly toward building affordable starter homes, with some, like Whitefish, explicitly saying they wouldn’t have done so without a mandate from the Legislature. One new law passed by Republicans is already being credited with the creation of 162 new housing units in Missoula.
Senate Bill 295 from Ethridge Republican Sen. Butch Gillespie set the stage for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to begin taking steps for Montana to assume management of grizzly bears. Thanks to that legislation, the state should be ready to conserve and manage grizzly populations when the federal government relinquishes its control over the bears.
And perhaps most obviously, hundreds of thousands of Montanans now have more money in their pocket thanks to tax relief passed by Republicans. Families have received thousands of dollars in property tax and income tax rebates in the few short months since legislators left Helena.
Whether it’s public safety, housing, wildlife conservation, tax relief, or any of a whole host of other issues, the Legislature has a real, tangible impact on the lives and wellbeing of Montanans. Even more good results will be on the way as additional legislation goes into effect.
Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, is the president of the Montana Senate.