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The Latest: House GOP strikes deal meant to unite caucus

January 7, 2019
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Montana Supreme Court Justice Laurie McKinnon swears in new state senators as the Montana Legislature opens its session on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Helena, Mont. (AP Photo/Matt Volz)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Latest on the opening of the 2019 Montana legislative session(all times local):

Republican lawmakers in the Montana House have struck a deal meant to head off a potential rift between the majority party’s conservative and moderate factions.

Monday’s temporary rule change aims to unify the Republican majority and limit moderates from teaming up with Democrats to advance bills.

Moderate Republicans had sought to lower the requirement to bring a bill stuck in committee to the House floor from 60 votes to a simple majority of 51 votes.

Conservatives sought to keep the more stringent 60-vote requirement.

The compromise, 58 votes, reflects the number of Republican lawmakers in the House. There are 42 Democrats.

House Speaker Greg Hertz says the GOP caucus found a way to come together, but the rules could still change.

House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner says he is disappointed and the rules should ensure everyone’s voice is heard.

1:40 p.m.

Montana lawmakers have opened the 2019 session to calls for civility and cooperation as contentious debates loom over the state budget and the future of Medicaid expansion.

The House and Senate gaveled in Monday for the 90-day session that will be Gov. Steve Bullock’s last as a Democrat trying to pass his agenda through a Republican-led Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas told senators that he expects the Republican majority will hold firm against Bullock’s proposals for tax increases in areas such as the hospitality industry and alcohol sales.

The Stevensville Republican added that he expects the Senate to work to improve access to public lands and prioritize funding for schools and the state’s neediest people.

Minority Leader Jon Sesso called for civility and said the Senate’s legacy will be judged on how they treat one other.

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9:45 a.m.

Lawmakers from around Montana are gathering at the state Capitol in Helena for the start of the 2019 Legislature.

Opening ceremonies are scheduled at noon Monday in both the House and the Senate.

Key issues during the 90-day session include a proposed $10.3 billion budget for the next two fiscal years, whether to continue Medicaid expansion along with finding a way to pay for infrastructure work.

Senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle say they expect Medicaid expansion to continue in some form. Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is proposing some new taxes, but Republican leaders say there’s little appetite for that among members of the majority party.

The governor’s proposed budget includes additional funding for the university system so campuses don’t have to raise tuition.

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