Seeing Past The Culture Wars

Seeing Past The Culture Wars

"While the culture wars steal all the attention, from my perspective the Montana Legislature is quietly delivering on serious conservative policies of fiscal responsibility, economic freedom and red tape relief."

If you opened social media today, you probably saw something that provoked your outrage.

Much of the coverage of our nation’s politics now seems to be dedicated to pulling together “click bait” headlines or tracking down viral content that confirms their viewer’s biases. And make no mistake, there are politicians on both sides of the aisle who feed the culture wars, offering “red meat” policies aimed less at solving a problem and more at provoking a lawsuit. Whatever makes the other side look evil and your side look righteous to drive the clicks and likes.

Sadly, in the midst of our modern culture wars the serious news stories about how the 2023 Montana Legislature has fared on kitchen table issues often get missed. And that’s unfortunate, because at this halfway point in the legislative session we have seen significant (and often bipartisan) progress on issues that impact the daily lives and pocket books of all Montanans:

Tax Relief
The 2023 Legislature has already sent a package of bills to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk representing the largest tax cut in Montana history. These measures deliver nearly a billion dollars in tax relief to Montanans suffering from heightened inflation by permanently reducing the income tax rate, providing income and property tax rebates, and dropping nearly 5,000 small businesses from the business equipment tax rolls. These tax measures are the fruit of the Legislature’s past commitment to fiscally conservative budgeting, which made room for this historic tax relief.

Health care
The Legislature has advanced at least eight proposals aimed at addressing health care workforce shortages by eliminating occupational licensure red tape. HB 152 from Rep. Bill Mercer, the signature 2023 bill of the Governor’s Red Tape Relief Initiative, streamlines the entire occupational licensure system to make it easier for licensed health care professionals coming from other states to get quickly licensed to work in Montana. SB 112 from Sen. Tom McGillvray and HB 313 from Rep. Jodee Etchart will leverage Montana pharmacists and physician assistants to fill gaps in our health care system, especially in rural underserved areas, by providing them with greater authority to treat and care for patients under their license.

As the housing shortage prices out workers, renters and young families from Montana cities, legislative leaders in both political parties have zeroed in on some serious pro-housing reforms targeting strict local zoning regulations which stifle housing development. SB 323 from Sen. Jeremy Trebas would provide landowners in Montana cities more freedom to build affordable starter homes like duplexes and triplexes. SB 245 from Sen. Daniel Zolnikov would free up commercial city centers for housing development. And SB 382 from Sen. Forrest Mandeville takes a comprehensive approach to zoning reform, ensuring that cities are providing landowners the freedom they need to build homes to accommodate Montana’s population growth. These pro-housing reforms passed the Senate on overwhelming bipartisan votes and now carry this momentum into the House.

The Legislature has advanced several proposals to empower parents with more choice in their child’s education. HB 562 from Rep. Sue Vinton (R), the more expansive of two public charter school proposals, gives parents the ability to independently charter and govern an innovative public school in their community. Another bill from Vinton will double the cap for tax credit scholarships, funding innovative education programs in schools and more education options for disadvantaged students.

While the culture wars steal all the attention, from my perspective the Montana Legislature is quietly delivering on serious conservative policies of fiscal responsibility, economic freedom and red tape relief.

This column originally appeared in Lee Newspapers.

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