HELENA—After a marathon day, the Montana Senate completed its work Friday, recessed early and will return to the Capitol on March 6 after a mid-session break.

The Senate debated and voted on more than 50 bills Friday to wrap up their first half of work.

The 50-member Senate typically has far fewer bills to address during the first half of the session than the 100-member House, but it usually evens up after the transmittal break.

The House, in contrast, will work until Wednesday morning, the 45th legislative day, and return from its mid-session recess on March 7. Most sessions, the members of the House and Senate all leave for their mid-session break on the 45th day.

This year, however, Senate President Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, made it clear from the start that he wanted the Senate to get its work done as expeditiously as possible. Sales has wanted to save some legislative days for later in the year in case lawmakers needed to return to make any needed changes in state law to comply with federal laws passed to implement President Donald Trump’s agenda, particularly the repeal or major changes to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Under the Montana Constitution, the Legislature meets for 90 legislative days every two years.

Both top Democratic and Republican Senate leaders applauded the effort by the senators to finish up their first half of work on the 41st legislative day, singling out Sales in particular for his leadership and organization.

Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte, thanked all the senators for working hard to get the chamber’s work done.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the 41 days we spent together,” Sesso said. “I don’t think we cheated ourselves out of any passion. And we did it without rancor. I think statesmanship really made a great comeback this time.”

Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, said senators will return with the same attitude to complete their work the second half of the session.

“There’s tons of work to be done,” he said.

What’s more, Thomas said the Senate will have many more House bills to address.

Both Thomas and Sesso thanked their Senate staff members, the legislative staff, committee secretaries and others for their hard work.

Sales told the senators it was a pleasure working with them.

“Everyone exceeded my expectations,” he said. “We did it without rancor.”

The Senate president added, “See you in 10 days. The recess is well-earned.”

Sales thanked the top Senate aide, Secretary of the Senate Marilyn Miller, for her work organizing and supervising the Senate staff. Miller for years has held the top staff job in the Senate and previously in the House.

The major issue facing the Legislature during the second half of the session will be crafting a budget for state government for the next two years. Joint House-Senate subcommittees have completed their preliminary work. The budget will first go the House Appropriations Committee for action after the mid-session break and then to the House floor for debate.

After the House completes work on the budget, the Senate Finance and Claims Committee will take it up before it goes to the full Senate for debate.

The Senate changes will go to the full House for action. If the House rejects them, the budget will go to a joint House-Senate conference committee find ways to settle the differences.

Both the House and Senate must approve the conference committee changes before the final version goes to Gov. Steve Bullock for action.

Chuck Johnson covers politics and the Montana Legislature for the Chronicle.

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