State legislators won't get much of a break before they start the 2017 session, with the official swearing ceremony scheduled for January 2 in the Helena Capitol Rotunda.

House District 94 Democrat Kimberly Dudik is a Missoula attorney, and comes into the 2017 session with a defined list of priorities.

"One of my top priorities is to pass a budget," Dudik said. "It's the only thing we're required to do, and I'm on the House Appropriations Committee. We'll be looking over the entire budget with a fine-toothed comb. My own specific priorities include the importance of passing an infrastructure bill for our state, dealing with roads, bridges, sewers and buildings as well as human infrastructure. I think we need to invest in the next generation. We are one of five states that don't offer universal pre-kindergarten education."

While Dudik listed the benefits of pre-K education, she was reminded of comments made by Republican leadership to use the $4 million proposed for universal pre-k shifted to the underfunded Montana Highway Department.

"I think that's a false choice," she said. "I don't think we have to choose between our roads or to invest in our kids. I think we can do both. Specifically, I think we can use bonding to fund the infrastructure, similar to how you would buy a house, with a mortgage of some sort where you pay it off over time. Now is a good time to do some sort of bonding for our state, so we can still offer universal pre-kindergarten education, we can do both."

Dudik also has ideas to boost the state's economy through specific tax breaks.

"One bill would allow businesses to take a tax deduction if they help pay back student loans," she said. "I also have a bill for a voluntary program where businesses could take a tax deduction if they set up a voluntary medical leave account for their employees which would be in addition to the federal family medical leave act."

Dudik said she and fellow legislator Cynthia Wolken have been working on some criminal justice bills before the session.

"We're really hoping to become smarter on crime," she said. "We want to make our state safer without building bigger prisons and spending more money in that regard, so we have plenty of new bills in that area that we hope will make our state safer, while making the state more fiscally sound when it comes to what we spend in those areas."

Wolken, along with Sheriff T.J. McDermott, were instrumental in crafting the Missoula County Jail Diversion Plan, recently endorsed by the county commissioners.

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