State Director Ronda Wiggers reports from Helena on the legislative and political week ending January 15
The session does seem to be off to a slow start. Although there have been an abundance of bill draft requests, we are at least 60 introduced bills short of where we were at this time last session.
The upcoming week does not appear to be much busier. However, there are several bill drafts that are ready for introduction, so I expect a sizable jump this week.
Highlights from Last Week
- As I am sure you have already read in the press, Gov. Greg Gianforte announced on Wednesday that he was lifting the statewide 10 p.m. closure on bars and restaurants; the 50% capacity on all business; and the limit of 25 for a gathering.
He instead requested that businesses follow their industry’s best practices and CDC guidelines. Businesses in any county that has passed regulations above that of the state will need to continue to comply with county regulations until they are rescinded.
NFIB issued the following comments, which were picked up by media throughout the state: “We are very appreciative that Governor Gianforte understands that every small business is different. Allowing each business to follow best practice safety protocol that works for them, their employees and their customers will allow Montana’s economy to begin to recover.”
- After much discussion, SB 65 Revise Civil Liability Laws – the bill to protect businesses from COVID liability claims – was heavily amended and passed out of Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs Committee on a party line vote. It will be debated on the Senate floor on January 18. 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.
- HB 125 Provide Exemption from Income Tax Withholding – was heard in House Taxation Committee but it took no action. There was some concern among committee members that an employee may think he or she owed no tax and then get a bonus or raise that caused a taxable situation, resulting in a surprise tax bill and penalty in April.
The Week Ahead
- Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs Committee, January 19, 9 a.m.
SB 91 Require Fiscal Note to Include Business Impact. This bill has come up in prior sessions. Although there is merit in the concept, it becomes difficult to determine what businesses would be asked to provide. A law change can have very different impacts on a large corporate chain than it does on a small, Main Street business. Even geography can make a difference, as a business in Billings may be affected differently than a business in Fairfield and may not agree on the impacts of a particular piece of legislation.
- House Business and Labor Committee, January 19, 8:30 a.m.
HB 149 Allow certain card transaction fees. This bill would allow a business to charge up to a 3% transaction fee for the use of a credit or debit card if that fee was disclosed to the customer prior to the close of the transaction. NFIB will be consulting its membership and monitoring this proposal closely. While it does have some appeal to some small-business owners, others believe they are having enough trouble already competing with big-box and online stores that offer credits not higher fees.
- House State Administration Committee, January 19, 8 a.m.HB 158
Create Study Commission to review Covid-19 statute and rule suspensions. The sponsor wants a committee to look at all the rules that were suspended due to the pandemic and determine if they really need to be in place at all. NFIB will monitor this and participate if it becomes a study.
Other Bill of Interest
- HB 175 Generally Revising Consumer Good Repair Laws. This bill addresses the situation where repairs must be made at or by a licensed dealer. Although it is primarily aimed at heavy equipment, it also includes IT. NFIB will be closely monitoring this bill for any harmful impact it could hold for small businesses.
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