Legislature Begins its Work, Capitol Open for Business

Date: January 10, 2021

Tax, liability protection bills of interest to Main Street entrepreneurs scheduled for hearings

State Director Ronda Wiggers reports from Helena on the small-business agenda for the legislative week ending January 8.

To say that the 2021 Legislative session is a bit odd would be an understatement. Access has been open to everyone who wants to be there, and we are also allowing virtual participation.  The halls of the Capitol are pretty empty, but I believe that will change as people realize that the legislators have difficulty hearing a lot of the zoom testimony and get more comfortable with the social distancing requirements.

There are two bills scheduled for hearing this week of interest to NFIB members:

  • On Tuesday, January 12, at 8:30 a.m., the House Taxation Committee will hear House Bill 125, which would allow someone who generally pays no Montana income tax to not have any tax withheld from his or her paycheck.  I am simply watching this in order to update our members if there is a change to the law.
  • On Wednesday, January 13, the Senate Taxation Committee at 9 a.m., will hear Senate Bill 11, which would increase the minimum corporate tax. This increase was approved by the Revenue Interim Committee and increases it from $50 to $200. 

Liability Protection

The bill that probably generated the most interest last week was Senate Bill 65, which would revise civil liability laws. Commonly known as the ‘COVID liability bill,’ Gov. Greg Gianforte mentioned this bill’s passage as a requirement to him removing the mandatory mask order, and it had been a top priority for many Republican legislators.  However, when it was introduced, there was much controversy surrounding the actual language.

Click here for a special story on SB 65 on the NFIB Montana webpage.

Some legislators were hoping for a bill that simply removed any requirements for following any health guidelines.  It is my understanding from the bill sponsor, who is an attorney, that this would likely not stand up to a court challenge and we would have the courts determining what levels of compliance were required. The bill requires ‘substantial compliance’ with federal, state or public health guidance in order to be protected from liability.

It should be noted that in order to even file a lawsuit, a person must have been hospitalized or died, prove that the act was intended to cause harm, or must prove gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct on the part of the business owner.  A business owner would not be protected if he or she intentionally and knowingly exposed someone to Covid-19. 

The intent of the bill is to give all businesses a level of certainty that if they reasonably attempt to follow the health guidelines, and an employee or customer gets sick, they will not be legally liable. It also gives some protection to health care for decisions made due to COVID and protects manufacturers of COVID-19 supplies/products from product liability claims unless they meet the same negligence standards mentioned above.

Social media has circulated claims that the bill will require mandatory vaccinations in order to be safe from liability. It is simply not in the bill. Other legislators were hoping that this would address the health care mandates directly.  That needs to be done in separate legislation and there are numerous bill drafts to do so.

NFIB voiced strong support for this needed legislation and will continue to work to get it passed and to the governor’s desk as soon as possible.

If you are interested in following the progress of all the bills that NFIB is tracking in Montana, visit this link.  It will also provide you access to the text of the bill and voting records as it moves thru the process.

 

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