HELENA - House Republican leaders tried and failed to pull a rabbit out of their political hat Wednesday when the House declined to blast the statewide health insurance bill for school employees out of the deadlocked House Select Education Committee.
House Republican Floor Leader Mike Lange of Billings asked the equally divided 100-member chamber to pull House Bill 124 out of committee, where it's stalled on a tie vote. The Statewide Health Insurance Plan bill, known as the SHIP bill, would create a single plan for Montana's school district employees at a cost of about $50 million a year.
Lange's motion failed after many Democrats voted to leave the bill in committee. When it was up for a vote in committee, all the Republicans voted against HB124 and all the Democrats voted for it.
"I think it's very important this bill doesn't get lost in the shuffle," Lange said. "This bill needs to be alive. This bill needs to be part of a solution to education."
The 2005 Legislature is trying to find a solution to the state's perennial school funding problem. The Montana Supreme Court in November declared the state's school funding formula unconstitutional and told the Legislature to fix the problem by Oct. 1.
Rep. Monica Lindeen, D-Huntley, is chairwoman of the House Select Education Committee, where the insurance bill is stalled.
She said the House should not pluck the bill out of her committee and urged the full body to give the committee more time to craft a solution.
"It's very important to understand that the select committee was created for the express purpose of dealing with the Supreme Court decision," Lindeen said. "You need to allow the committee to do the work."
Lange said he wants to revive the bill now that its sponsor, Rep. Tom Facey, D-Missoula, has proposed some compromise amendments. Facey's suggested amendments accommodate GOP concerns over cost and flexibility, and include changes that would lower the inflation factor built into the bill and would allow school districts to opt to leave the insurance plan.
"It changes the bill, lowers the cost of the bill and we have strong Republican support," Lange said.
The House Select Education Committee could opt to revive the statewide health insurance plan in committee.