All the major deadlines have passed and now it's down to brass tacks writes NFIB/Montana State Director Riley Johnson in his latest Report from the Capitol.
We are at a point in this session of the Montana Legislature where there is not a lot of big and bold activity happening.
There is a lot happening, but it’s on the big issues like the budget, workers’ compensation, medical marijuana and school funding. It is past the date for any new legislation, and all appropriation bills had to be into the other chamber by last Friday. Any revenue bills must be across house lines by this coming Wednesday.
We are down to crunch time, folks.
Take medical marijuana, for example. There are only three bills still alive. The one bill in which NFIB/Montana has a big stake is House Bill 43. This bill puts very strict sideboards on use of medical marijuana in the workplace, expands drug testing laws, and details course and scope of utilizing the workers’ compensation system. This bill by Rep. Gary MacLaren (R-Victor) passed third reading in the Senate 35-15 on Friday and is headed to the House to concur with amendments. This is the bill that was drafted by the business lobby community last fall and approved bys the Economic Affairs Interim Committee. The question is whether or not the governor will sign HB 43.
House Bill 161 that would have repealed medical marijuana laws got tangled up in the Senate Judiciary Committee and died on a 6-6 vote. A move to blast this bill out of the committee and to a second reading in the Senate failed Friday on a 25-25 vote. So, this idea is dead.
Other bills on medical marijuana include House Bill 429, which is stuck in House Human Services Committee. A new bill, Senate Bill 423, was heard last Wednesday. It came out of committee on a 10-to-2 and would repeal the current law but establishes very strict controls on the medical use of the drug.
Finally, House Bill 175 passed the House on Friday by 71-28 and will be heard on third reading Monday. This bill would send the repeal of the medical marijuana law to a vote of the people in 2012.
This scenario on medical marijuana has not played itself out as yet. If I were to look into my crystal ball, I would think that House Bill 423, the strict sideboards bill, and House Bill 175, putting medical marijuana law to another vote of the people, might make a good one-two punch. Repeal the current law, write a new version that wrenches down how the system works, and then take it back to a vote of the people in 2012. But I don’t have a vote on this issue.
The other big bill is the workers’ compensation bill, House Bill 334 by Rep. Scott Reichner (R-Bigfork). The hearing last Wednesday on this bill was something of a love-in. The deals had been made. The proponents and opponents had compromised. The governor had signed on to the bill. It passed out of the Senate Business Committee 11-0 and came to the floor on Saturday, where it passed 43-5.
It now heads back to the House for a laundry list of amendments agreed to by all parties while in the Senate. This bill could save over 25 percent in workers’ compensation costs by the end of 2011, with further savings to the system of up to 50 percent within three years.
As Labor Commissioner Keith Kelly, speaking for the governor’s office, said in his testimony: “This could be one of the most significant bills in this session, and certainly the most important in the workers’ compensation arena in decades.”
House Bill 334 encompasses now about 90 percent of what the Labor-Management Advisory Council on Workers’ Compensation drafted to address the crisis in Montana during its four years of work on the issue. NFIB/Montana’s state director had a seat on the LMAC council from the beginning.
One bill that surprised everyone at the last minute was House Bill 634. It popped up only last Tuesday and was heard on Friday in House Business. It would have every commercial transaction that used any personal information to be secured in writing from the customer. It would have created a workplace nightmare to small business owners.
NFIB/Montana took a leading role in asking the sponsor, Rep. Bryce Bennett (D-Missoula), to table his bill and issue a new bill, House Joint Resolution 27, which requires an interim study of security on personal data in Montana. HJ 27 will be heard on Monday in the House Business Committee. NFIB/Montana will support HJ 27, because it recognizes the lack of security on personal information through the workplace and the liability of small business owners handling such information.
- House Bill 71 that would have denied illegal aliens workers’ compensation coverage was tabled in Senate Business Committee
- House Bill 325 that would have eliminated the business equipment tax was tabled in House Tax Committee
- The only business equipment tax bill still alive is Senate Bill 372, which would reduces the tax to 1.5 percent with economic triggers. It passed the Senate 28-22 and was transmitted to the House
- The budget bill, House Bill 2, was voted out of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday and will be heard on the Senate Floor beginning this week.
That should wrap up this week’s news. If anyone has a question on any bills, please don’t hesitate to call me on my cell phone, as I will be up in the Capitol building all next week working the halls for the NFIB/Montana agenda.
The best way to have your voice heard quickly is to phone 406-444-4800. Operators are on hand to take messages up to five legislators on each call, and delivery is within a half hour. For those wanting more information on locating legislators, getting e-mail addresses, looking to view committee meetings and floor sessions on television or over computers, and just to review all hearings and reading the actual bills can click here and access everything electronically.
Past Riley Reports from the State Capitol