Victories From the 64th Montana Legislature

Date: May 08, 2015

2015 session wins for small business

The Montana Legislature meets for a 90-day session every odd-numbered year. The 64th session ended April 28, 2015, with some significant small-business victories. The next regular session of the Legislature will convene January 2017.

Won a reduction in the statute of limitations on audits of state taxes
NFIB/Montana lobbied heavily for passage of House Bill 379, the so-called Tax Fairness Act, which reduces the statute of limitations from the current five years to three years for any audits by the state of Montana of income tax returns of individuals and sole proprietors. Gov. Steve Bullock signed HB 379 into law.

Secured a change in the property reappraisals from a six-year cycle to a two-year cycle
NFIB/Montana strongly supported passage of Senate Bill 157, which changes the reappraisal cycle from a six-year cycle to a two-year cycle for residential and commercial property. This will smooth out and simplify the reappraisal process and prevent the wild swings property can take over a six-year timeframe. The bill, which the governor has signed into law, also eliminates the phasing in of tax increases over six years.

Succeeded in making regulatory reform law permanent
A top priority of NFIB/Montana was passage of House Bill 396, which the governor also signed into law, and which removed the sunset clause (expiration date) from a bill passed in 2013 that established the “Small Business Impact Act.” HB 396 requires any state agency when drafting rules and regulations to consider the economic impact on small businesses. Small business in the law is defined as 50 or fewer employees.

Obtained new law stopping patent trolls from shaking down small-business owners
One of NFIB/Montana’s highest priorities was passage of Senate Bill 39, which the governor signed into law. Attorney General Tim Fox’s office had warned of entities around the country that were buying up patents and copyrights (trolling) and then surfing the web and publications of small businesses to find obscure incidents of potential infringements. They would then write a letter charging the infringement and demanding money in order for businesses to continue using their patent or copyright. They asked for small amounts and target small businesses that do not have a legal department, forcing some small employers to pay the $1,000 or $1,500 fee rather than twice that to hire a good patent attorney. The attorney general verified that a number of small businesses in Montana have fallen for this scam. SB 39 reins in such letters claiming infringement and provides enforcement and damages against those perpetrating such bad faith assertions. The bill passed 95 to 1 in the House and 46 to 1 in the Senate.

Opened door for liability waivers to be admissible in court hearings
NFIB/Montana pushed for passage of House Bill 204, which the governor signed into law. This new law allows liability waivers and releases to be admitted into court hearings as evidence of a principal’s liability in sports and recreation settings. Currently, many businesses use liability waivers before entering into sports or recreational activities, but they are not allowed to be used in a courtroom hearing to assist the principal in proving liability. Many Montana small businesses need this law, such as dude ranches, backcountry guides and outfitters, zip line operators, and even group sporting events like baseball, YMCA basketball tournaments, and school sporting events.

Killed two proposals to raise the state’s minimum-wage rate from passing
NFIB/Montana succeeded in reminding legislators that the minimum wage is an entry-level wage, earned primarily by teens and young adults starting out on their work lives, and that increasing it only eliminates opportunities to enter the workforce. Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 384 would have raised the state minimum wage from its current $8.05 per hour to $10.10 per hour and kept the annual consumer price index (CPI) in place. That would have allowed the minimum wage to increase about 1 percent to 3 percent every year going forward. Both measures were tabled in committee.

Stopped a plan to raise gas taxes by 19 percent
NFIB/Montana joined in the lobbying efforts to defeat House Bill 275, which would have raised the gas tax from 27 cents to 32 cents per gallon.

Defeated back-door attempt to establish local-option sales taxes
NFIB/Montana worked to defeat House Bill 602 that would give local governments the ability to put an impact fee of up to $5 per night on lodging in order to offset the impacts of oil and gas development. No vote of the people was required in HB 602. NFIB/Montana saw this bill as opening the door to allowing local governments to enact a local option sales tax. It was tabled in the House Tax Committee.

Beat back attempt to divert future dividends to policyholders of Montana State Fund
Workers’ compensation insurance, which every employer must by law have, is one of the highest costs to doing business and employing people in Montana. As a member of the Labor-Management Advisory Council on Workers’ Compensation established by law to find ways to reduce Montana’s highest-in-the nation premiums, NFIB/Montana was instrumental in helping craft reforms that have led to $20 million in dividends in just 2014 alone. That’s why NFIB/Montana takes an especially paternal interest in the workers’ compensation system, and why it led the charge in 2015 that defeated Senate Bill 254. The measure called for taking $50 million out of the reserves of the Montana State Fund and pay down the liabilities of the Old Fund of workers’ compensation. Currently, the Old Fund is being paid from the state’s general fund. Such a raid on the State Fund’s assets could cause the non-payment of future dividends to workers’ compensation policy holders for many years to come.

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Legislature by the numbers

Here is a look at the 2015 Montana Legislature, by the numbers, as of its adjournment on April 28, 2015.

  • Legislative bill drafts requested: 2,471
  • Bills introduced: 1,187
  • Bills killed in Legislature: 566
  • Resolutions adopted by Legislature: 77
  • Projected general fund ending balance as of June 30, 2017: $268.6 million
  • All-funds budget (both federal and state monies) in House Bill 2 for fiscal 2016 and 2017 passed by the Legislature: $10.149 billion.
  • Percentage increase in HB 2 all-funds budget for fiscal 2016 and 2017 compared to previous biennium: 7.1 percent.
  • HB 2 general fund budget (state revenue only) for fiscal 2016 and 2017 adopted by the Legislature: $4.05 billion.
  • Percentage increase in general fund budget for 2016 and 2017 compared to the last biennium: 6.1 percent.
  • Days that the 2015 Legislature convened out of maximum 90 days: 87
  • Estimated cost of 2015 Legislature from December, 2014 through April, 2015 for House, Senate, and legislative services: $9.5 million. 
Sources: Legislative Services, Legislative Fiscal Division, Gov. Steve Bullock’s Office.

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