Char-Koosta News

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August 26, 2010

Fleming reports on Helena meetings

Hello from Helena. I spent August 16-18 at the Capitol for meetings of the Education and Local Government Interim Committee, and an Education Subcommittee of the Legislative Finance Committee.

The ELG heard testimony from state staff and the public on the state's wild land/ urban interface (WUI) mapping project and its use in mitigating the dangers of wildfire. The backdrop for this effort is its possible impact on subdivision approvals

A great deal of time was spent on an effort to change the deadlines relative to school and local government financing laws. The bill to be debated at the next legislative session will grant schools and other taxing entities more time to report their mill levy requests and the Department of Revenue less time to prepare tax bills. Penalties for late submissions were considered but rejected at this time.

A process for setting up Community College districts was accepted. This was in response to efforts in Hamilton to organize a CC last year.

The committee received a limited update on the efforts to revise Montana's Medical Marijuana Act since this committee deals only with schools and local government issues. The MMA has received a great deal of testimony by the Children, Families, Health and Human Services Interim Committee and will be greatly altered by the next legislature. One promising proposal is to allow the state to set up dispensaries much like the state regulates liquor stores. These dispensaries would be inspected and regulated by the Department of Revenue as are liquor stores. Another proposal is to prevent physicians from being financially involved with caregivers (if that concept remains) or the dispensaries.

The Education subcommittee of the Finance committee met for a day and a half to review funding of education (K-12), higher education, and agencies such as the Arts Council, State Library, and the Historical Society.

The greatest time was spent in an effort to explain the complicated funding mechanisms for K-12 Education and the serious lack of revenue available for funding schools (2011-2013).. Reaching our Constitution's requirement of a "quality education for all" without passing the burden off to local taxpayers will be a challenge for the next legislature.

The subcommittee adjourned after hearing from the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Commissioner of Higher Education and the Montana League of Cities and Towns. All rely on State decisions for funding and will be instrumental in achieving the State's requirement of a balanced budget.

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