Articles written by Austin Amestoy


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  • Montana Legislature adjourns; Marijuana plans, $12.5 billion budget, federal relief and more roll on to Governor's desk

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|May 6, 2021

    5 Montana Legislature Adjourns after Near-Marijuana Meltdown and Bill-Resurrecting Blitz The 67th Montana Legislature adjourned on Thursday, April 29, following a week filled with policies brought back from the dead and capped by a failed high-stakes gamble by conservative Republicans to rewrite a major portion of the recreational marijuana plan passed just days earlier. Both chambers adjourned “sine die” -- a Latin phrase meaning “without assigning another day to meet” -- just minutes apart, with Republicans touting a laundry list of bill... Full story

  • Montana Legislature adjourns with marijuana, budget and tax plans en route to Governor

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|May 6, 2021

    The 67th Montana Legislature has adjourned, capping four months of work in an unprecedented hybrid session as the state and the nation struggle to end the COVID-19 pandemic. With more than 1,300 bills introduced, 500 passed and 350 signed into law, the 2021 session saw conservatives advance a flood of legislation to the governor’s desk, fueled by the presence of a Republican in the state’s highest office for the first time in 16 years. Much of that legislation dealt with fallout from the pandemic, even as the Legislature combated the virus in... Full story

  • As mobile home parks see major rent spikes, Montana Legislature has little appetite for affordable housing solutions

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Apr 29, 2021

    Mobile home parks are one of the last strongholds of reliable affordable housing in Montana, helping people of a wide range of income levels become homeowners, even as prices for most other residence types in across the state continue to spike. But as investment firms snap up properties across the state, there are signs that even mobile homes may soon become out of reach for many Montanans. It’s certainly a worry for Cindy Newman, who owns a mobile home in the Highwoods Mobile Home Park in Great Falls, which Utah-based investment firm H... Full story

  • Separation of powers crisis, recreational marijuana bill on the move, anti-trans bills split votes

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Apr 29, 2021

    Republican Lawmakers Locked in Battle with State Supreme Court over “Judicial Transparency” As the Montana Legislature nears the close of its biennial business, Republican lawmakers are mounting a case against the judicial branch and the state Supreme Court with accusations of judicial bias and improper record keeping, while Democrats call the inquiry a “witch hunt.” Since the start of the 2021 Legislative Session, lawmakers have proposed numerous bills seeking changes to the judicial branch. Some bills, like several that would have made st... Full story

  • Sweeping open-cut permitting bill in Montana Legislature creating a gravel pit predicament

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Apr 22, 2021

    HELENA — According to data from the Montana Department of Transportation, the Treasure State is home to more than 1,800 gravel pits. These so-called “open-cut” mining provides material critical to everything from paving roads to building homes. Proponents of a bill that could soon head to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk say it could pave the way for even more gravel production in the state by further easing the permitting process for certain types of operations. But some landowners worry that House Bill 599 would allow gravel operations to impact... Full story

  • Vaccine Exemption, Anti-Flavored Vape Ban Bills Back from the Dead in Week 15 of Montana Legislature

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Apr 22, 2021

    Montana Legislature Considers Lengthening Driver’s License Renewal Cycle, Raising DUI Penalties Lawmakers in the 67th Montana Legislature are debating and advancing a number of bills seeking to revise the way drivers are licensed and increase punishments for repeat DUI offenders. Members of the House Transportation Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 336 on Monday, April 12, after the bill cleared the Senate unanimously a week earlier. Sponsored by Sen. Chris Friedel, R-Billings, the bill seeks to lengthen the period of time before M... Full story

  • As "Compromise" Public Health Regulation Bill Nears Law, Public Health Officer Reflects on a Year of Scrutiny

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Apr 15, 2021

    Butte-Silver Bow County Health Officer Karen Sullivan was enjoying a drink in a Butte brewery after work when she said she got the call. For two months, she and her fellow county health officials across the state had been keeping tabs on reports of an outbreak of a strange new virus in Wuhan, China, but up until the evening of March 13, 2020, it had been business as usual for Sullivan and the county health department. Then a state official rang her at 6:30 p.m. “How’s your Friday?” she recalls the official asking. “Great. I’m having a beer wi... Full story

  • Marijuana Bills Advance Largely Unchanged, State Budget Clears Senate in Week 14 of Montana Legislature

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Apr 15, 2021

    Montana Senate Passes State Budget Bill, Rejects Attempt to End Medicaid Expansion The state budget is on the move again in the Montana Legislature after the Senate passed in on a 33-17 vote Thursday, making few changes and defeating an attempt to end Medicaid expansion in the process. House Bill 2 is the only bill the Legislature is constitutionally required to pass, as it determines how much money state agencies and programs will receive for the next two years. This session, the budget is about $12.6 billion, with funds going to five main... Full story

  • Lawmakers in tug-of-war over marijuana implementation

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Apr 8, 2021

    Three bills debuted in the Montana Legislature during the week of March 29 with vastly different approaches for regulating voter-approved recreational marijuana in the state, and all of them moved forward after a week of whirlwind hearings that nearly left Republican leadership’s favored approach dead in committee. After Montana voters legalized the sale and consumption of recreational marijuana last year by ballot initiative, the Montana Legislature was tasked with implementing a program. The three major proposals -- House Bill 670, 701 and 7... Full story

  • Money Moves and Health Care Transparency Blues in Week 13 of the Montana Legislature

    Austin Amestoy and James Bradley, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Apr 8, 2021

    Montana House Approves Draft of Bill to Spend $3 Billion in Federal COVID-19 Relief; Senate Panel Advances Budget Ahead of a key deadline on April 8, the Montana Legislature is quickly advancing a bill to spend billions in federal COVID-19 dollars as guidelines for how that money can be spent continue to roll in. House Bill 632, sponsored by Rep. Frank Garner, R-Kalispell, and dubbed the “Beast Bill” by lawmakers, advanced out of the House Appropriations Committee on Monday, March 29, and cleared the full House on an 83-14 vote just three days... Full story

  • Montana State Budget Clears House of Representatives, Lawmakers Consider Criminal Justice and Ag Bills in Week 12 of Legislative Session

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Apr 1, 2021

    Montana House of Representatives Advances State Budget in Partisan Vote The state budget cleared another major hurdle in the Montana Legislature after lawmakers in the House of Representatives passed it down party lines on Wednesday, March 24, with all 67 Republicans voting in favor and 33 Democrats against. House Bill 2 determines how much money state agencies will receive from a pool of about $12.6 billion over the next two years. Passing a balanced state budget is the only task the Legislature is constitutionally required to do. But, the... Full story

  • As GOP Lawmakers Drift Further Right, Custer Holds To Being 'A Reagan Republican'

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Apr 1, 2021

    Republican Rep. Geraldine Custer is not one to mince words. When a bill came up in February that would make it harder to vote by absentee ballot, the former Rosebud County clerk and recorder spoke up, and firmly. “This bill is probably the worst bill I’ve seen all session, and if you want the truth of the matter, it just needs to die,” Custer told her fellow committee members. The panel killed the bill the next day. Last week, she broke with her party to vote against a bill that would eliminate the decades-old local-option gas tax. “This... Full story

  • Gravel Pit Permitting, Mental Health Bills, Cigar Bars and More

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Mar 25, 2021

    “Open Cut 2.0” Bill would Ease Regulations on Gravel Pit Permit Applications A bill seeking to ease permitting requirements for gravel pits in rural areas and make it harder to call a public hearing on new facilities is drawing clear battle lines in the Montana Legislature, as property owners say it cuts them out of the process. In a hearing that lasted for more than two hours on Monday, March 15, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Libby, called the bill -- House Bill 599 -- “Open Cut 2.0,” which he said built off the provision... Full story

  • Montana's Proposed "Pollinator Protection Act" Seeks to Help Save the Bees

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Mar 25, 2021

    Patty Sundberg remembers a time early in her 40-year career in beekeeping when a 5% annual colony loss felt like a big deal. Now, she said it’s all her company can do to hold that rate at 20% -- though, on bad years, it can swing even higher. In the mid-2000s, word of a frightening trend in bee populations began circulating in the scientific community: entire colonies of bees were dying off at stunning rates. Dubbed “colony collapse disorder,” some beekeepers were reporting hive losses as high as 30% to 90% during the 2006-2007 winter. The n... Full story

  • Montana Legislature Kicks Off Second Half With Bills Combating Drug Trafficking, Limiting Gov.'s Emergency Powers and Expanding Prison Education in Week 10

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Mar 18, 2021

    Lawmakers Hear Bill to Combat Drug, Sex Trafficking in Montana A bill drafted with the help of former Republican state Senator Dr. Al Olszewski would add a new set of signs to Montana’s highways and airports greeting visitors with notice of a reward for information leading to the prosecution of drug and sex traffickers. Senate Bill 333, sponsored by Sen. Brad Molnar, R-Laurel, seeks to break down what Molnar called a “culture of trust” in drug and human trafficking circles by offering $50,000 to anyone who gives law enforcement infor... Full story

  • "Hard Times, Hard Choices:" What you need to know about Montana's budget-building process

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Mar 18, 2021

    Hot off its first 45 days filled with contentious policies and partisan clashes, the 67th Montana Legislature is buckling down to the task of building the state’s budget for the next two years. While the budget is arguably the most critical bill the Legislature passes, determining how much money state-funded programs will receive, the process of assembling it can often be a head-scratching affair. With the budget now in the limelight as lawmakers race to the end of their 90-day session, here’s an explanation of the process of funding Mon... Full story

  • As 2021 Legislature Wraps First Half, Here's What's Moving Forward

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Mar 11, 2021

    Despite all the challenges brought by the pandemic, lawmakers in the 67th Montana Legislative Session are wasting no time in pushing through a deluge of bills -- some new and untested, some vetoed numerous times before, but all being considered in a new light with a Republican governor in office for the first time in 16 years. Wednesday, March 3 marked the halfway point of the session and a key deadline called “transmittal.” Any general policy bills not attached to the state budget that have not advanced from the house they originated in are... Full story

  • Lawmakers Debate a Barrage of Bills, Key Deadlines Arrive, Right-to-Work Bills Go Down and the Judiciary Stays Nonpartisan

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Mar 11, 2021

    Montana House and Senate Adjourn for Mid-Session Break After Breakneck Floor Sessions After days of marathon sessions, the Montana House of Representatives and Senate adjourned for a nearly week-long break, having advanced more than 200 bills between the two houses in just two days. The break falls on the “transmittal” deadline, in which all bills that don’t have spending attached must advance from the house they originate in, or are considered effectively dead. This session, the week leading up to transmittal brought a flood of bills that... Full story

  • Week 8 of the Montana Legislature brings vaccine exemption and broadband expansion bills as lawmakers rush to meet key deadline

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Mar 4, 2021

    Lawmakers Race to Introduce Bills Before Key Deadline; House Committee Holds Marathon Hearings As the Legislature approaches the halfway point of the session -- and a key deadline for general bills -- one House committee heard more than 50 bills in four days, imposing strict time limits on testimony and raising questions about transparency and public access. That deadline -- called “transmittal” -- falls on Wednesday, March 3, the halfway point of the Legislative Session and the last day for all bills, except those that appropriate state fun... Full story

  • Montana Lawmakers Focus in on Capturing Film Industry Dollars

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Mar 4, 2021

    For two whole days in October, the sounds of shattering glass and blood-scrubbing brushes rocked Ruby’s Cafe in Missoula -- a charming, 40s-style diner owned by Brenda Hallas. She spent the days in her basement office, listening to the chaos without a worry in her mind. In fact, given the chance, she said she’d invite the noisemakers back for another round. “I really hope if something comes up again, and they need a diner again, they’re going to call us,” Hallas said in a phone call. “I want to have a rapport with these people.” When the crew...

  • Privacy Protections, Voting Restrictions, Bison Bills and Pandemic Preparedness

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Feb 25, 2021

    Montana Constitutional Amendment would Establish Protections for Electronic Messages The Montana Legislature is considering a bill proponents say will offer increased clarity and protections for privacy in the digital age. Senate Bill 203, sponsored by Sen. Kenneth Bogner, R-Miles City, seeks to ask voters to amend Montana’s Constitution to add language to Article II, Section 11 that would explicitly protect electronic data and communications from illegal searches and seizures. At the bill’s first hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 16, Bogner described t... Full story

  • "No One Can Stop Them:" Meet the Families Behind the Push for Insurance Coverage for Montana's Deaf Children

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Feb 25, 2021

    Nine years ago, doctors diagnosed Caden Shrauger with stage-four neuroblastoma, a rare cancer that developed in his nerve cells and spread throughout his body. At the time, doctors told his family he had a 50% chance of survival. Caden underwent numerous rounds of treatment to fight back, and eventually, he won his battle -- but not before the chemotherapy damaged his hearing. Now, the 12-year-old Bozeman boy is on his second pair of hearing aids, which, he told lawmakers on the Montana House Human Services Committee, help him do everything... Full story

  • Gov. Signs COVID-19 Liability Bill, Legislature considers family medical leave, wolf hunting, income tax and Indigenous Peoples Day in Week 6 of the Montana Legislature

    Austin Amestoy and James Bradley, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Feb 18, 2021

    Look What’s Law: Governor Signs Bill Reducing COVID-19 Liability, Rolls Back Mask Mandate Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed into law a major COVID-19 liability bill, which soared through the Montana Legislature during its first month. Senate Bill 65, sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, greatly reduces the extent to which businesses, healthcare professionals, and manufacturers of personal protective equipment are liable for harm related to COVID-19. The bill sets a higher bar for lawsuits, changing the standard from ... Full story

  • Lawmakers popose Education Tax Credits to help boost skilled labor force

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Feb 18, 2021

    Casey Olson has been on a drill rig since 1991. Back then, Olson worked at a mineral exploration company, and though the work was “break-back,” learning the equipment wasn’t too difficult. Fast forward 30 years later, he’s now running Rabco Services as an independent well drilling contractor in Columbia Falls and Olson says the technology is rapidly outpacing the knowledge of new workers, which are hard enough to find as it is. “We’re trying to target younger guys, we take older guys -- we take whoever wants to come,” Olson said in a phone in... Full story

  • Lawmakers Grapple with Solutions to Montana's Youth Mental Health Crisis

    Austin Amestoy, UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism|Feb 11, 2021

    The bell rang once to signal members of the Montana House of Representatives to punch in their votes, and the result was a dead heat: 50 for “yes,” 50 for “no.” That was enough to kill House Bill 27, the first in a stream of bills working to address gaps in support for Montana students’ mental health. Sponsored by Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena, the bill would have permitted schools to implement “handle with care” programs -- allowing law enforcement to contact a child’s school and alert staff to handle the student with extra care because of a po...

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