Governor Releases ‘Montana Comeback Plan’ – NFIB-backed Liability Protection Bill Advances

Date: February 01, 2021

State Director Ronda Wiggers reports from Helena on the legislative and political week ending January 30

  • SB 65 Revise Civil Liability Laws – the bill to protect businesses from Covid liability claims – passed out of House Business and Labor on a party-line vote and will be debated on the House floor on Monday, February 1.  It does have amendments, so it will need to go back to the Senate for approval prior to heading to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk. This is the bill the governor has requested be passed to protect Montana businesses from frivolous lawsuits concerning COVID claims. NFIB is supporting this legislation.
  • SB 118 Revise laws relating to false statements to employers and Workers’ Compensation – This bill says that if a new employee lies about existing health conditions that are relevant for the work they are being hired for, you and your workers’ compensation policy will not be liable for benefits. As you likely know, once you have made a conditional offer for employment, you are allowed to screen for existing health issues that would prohibit them from doing the work for which they are being hired. If they provide false information and then attempt to collect for an injury, the claim will be denied. After a good hearing on Tuesday, this bill passed out of Senate Business and Labor on a party-line vote. NFIB supports this legislation.
  • HB 198 Revise Workers’ Compensation death-benefit law – Currently, if an employee dies on the job, workers’ compensation pays for the funeral costs, up to $4,000. As this does not cover the average cost, this bill would increase that to “up to $10,000” and adjust it for inflation in the future. The Montana State Fund has indicated that this will be such a minor increase that it will not affect the rates. The only opponents didn’t like the inflationary factor.  An amendment has been offered to remove that, but the committee has not yet taken any action. NFIB supported this bill.

Coming Up This Week

Although we have a few bills to work on getting through the process and visiting with legislators about bills coming soon, there are no hearings for NFIB bills scheduled this week.

Bills of Interest to Watch

  • HB 228 Establish family medical leave insurance – this is identical to the bill that was brought forward last session.  It would require employers to pay a 1% payroll tax into a new fund that would then pay benefits for family and medical leave. However, those payments are not guaranteed to the employee and would only be paid out until the fund ran out of money. The bill was assigned to Health and Human Services and was then reassigned to Business and Labor. No hearing has been set. NFIB will oppose this added cost of doing business.
  • HB 254 Revise Wrongful Discharge act – the state chamber of commerce put together a group to address problems with this act without creating a situation where we are back to having the Supreme Court of Montana decide every fired-employee case. The bill:
    • increases the probationary period from six months to 12 months
    • adds “the employee’s material or repeated violation of an express provision of the employer’s written personnel policies” as a reason to dismiss for good cause
    • adds being absent from work for more than five days without explanation as cause
    • and further limits the amount of damages a dismissed employee can receive. 

The bill is not yet scheduled for a hearing.

  • Governor Gianforte has also released his “Montana Comeback Plan” that includes:
    • lowering the personal income tax rate
    • doubling the amount of the exemption to business equipment tax
    • changing the way we tax corporations in Montana
    • removing the sale of employee-owned stock from capital gains tax. 
  • SB 159 lowers the Montana personal income tax rate from 6.9% to 6.75% There will be an accompanying “trigger” bill that will continue to lower the rate based on our ending fund balance. It appears that we may be able to lower it to 6.5% once the Legislature passes the budget this session and then continue to lower the rate until we get below 5%  (LC 662)
  • LC 1158 increases the exemption on business equipment taxes from the current $100,000 to $200,000 – this will be introduced in the House. It is estimated that this will remove another 4,000 Montana small businesses from the business equipment tax rolls. Montana adjusts property tax law and calculations at the state level, but the tax primarily funds local government. Often when the Legislature “gives” a tax break, the local government is forced to increase taxes to cover the loss. This bill backfills local government to keep that from happening.
  • HB 252 creates a non-refundable employer tax credit for employer-paid trades education. The program does not need to be through a College of Technology nor approved by any state agency. Simply, the employer pays for an employee to get trade/technical training and can receive a tax credit for 50% of the cost, up to $2,000 per employee with a cap of $25,000 per business. It can even cover a week of continuing education or product-specific training. There is a list of 26 trades that can use this credit. 

The other two bills are more aimed at bringing in large employers – or taking small business to big business! One will exempt from capital gains tax the sale of employee-owned stock; the other deals with moving from the apportionment method of taxing multi-state corporations to the sales-only method. Montana is one of only a few states that still attempts to apportion within our borders. 

As always, you can track all the bills that the NFIB is following at this link.

Previous Reports and Related News

Gov. Greg Gianforte giving 2021 State-of-the-State address. Photo snip courtesy of the Montana Public Affairs Network



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