Montana Legislature Getting Down to Dollars and Cents

Date: March 02, 2017

At midpoint of session, NFIB tallies its victories for small business from the first half

NFIB/Montana State Director Riley Johnson’s report from Helena for the legislative week ending March 2

The Montana Legislature broke for a brief recess March 1. The Senate left town last Friday evening, February 24, after finishing its business, and the House stayed in session until Wednesday morning.

Only one house must be in session to count as a legislative day. Wednesday was the 45th day, which is halfway to the 90-day session. The Senate will return late on March 6, and the House will go back into session the next day.

Now, the work begins on finalizing the revenue estimates, drafting a two-year budget, crafting a comprehensive infrastructure program, and deciding how much money to spend on current and new projects, programs, social services, education, and a myriad of other things that cost money.

The House Appropriations Committee will start work on the budget bill March 7. Chairwoman Nancy Ballance (R) of Hamilton said there could be a bill to the House of Representatives as early as March 16.

Gov. Steve Bullock is looking at some agency cuts, but he wants to maintain a $300 million surplus at the end of the biennium. This is referred to as the “rainy day fund.” The Republican-controlled Legislature is eyeing something less: in the $200 million range.

Looking back over the past 45 days, two bills stand out as victories for NFIB/Montana.

New Due Dates for Tax Forms

The first is House Bill 63 that changed the date when individual income tax forms are due to employees. The change is from the last day of February to the last day of January each year.

This conforms to the new federal tax rules and allows people to file early and help avoid fraudulent tax filings by scammers.

Workers Training Program

The other NFIB/Montana victory was the passage of House Bill 88 which revised the incumbent worker training program in the Department of Labor, allowing businesses up to 50 employees to apply for the training grants. This program gives over 325 small Montana businesses an opportunity to get specialized training to improve wages and work opportunities.

Other NFIB Victories

NFIB/Montana also succeeded in tabling some bills that prevented them from meeting the March 1 transmittal deadline from one house to the next; thus, they are all dead. NFIB/Montana lobbied vigorously against:

  • House Bill 169, which would have raised the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and attached an inflation factor to the increase each year
  • House Bill 329, which would have raised the prevailing wage limit on cities and counties. Now, any municipal projects that exceed $25,000 must be put to bid for private enterprise. The measure called for raising the limit to $55,000. This bill was voted down in the House and then missed the deadline for reconsideration 
  • House Bill 392 was tabled in House Business Committee and subsequently missed the transmittal deadline, also It would have established a family and medical leave insurance program like unemployment insurance. Employers and employees would have contributed money to the program quarterly, from which a check would have been given every month to workers who are sick or have family problems that require time off the workplace 
  • Senate Bill 217, known as the paycheck protection act, would have prevented employers from discussing past wage history with a prospective employee, or discriminate against employees who discuss wages and benefits being received in the workplace. This measure, too, was tabled and lost an attempt to blast the bill on to the Senate floor, with a 19-30 vote.

Remaining Bills of Interest to Small Business

Other bills of interest to NFIB/Montana that are in play for the second half of the session include:

  • House Bill 165 would limit punitive damages in a lawsuit to $10 million, three percent of a defendant’s net worth, or (new language) three times the compensatory damages, whichever is less
  • House Bill 187 would give a tax credit to individuals who invest money in new businesses or invest in expanding a business
  • House Bill 452 would raise individual income tax brackets on the wealthy
  • House Bill 473 would raise gasoline and diesel fuel taxes by 8 cents a gallon
  • House Bill 567 would double the lodging and campground tax from 3 percent to 6 percent to pay for an invasive species program. This is aimed at the growth of mussels in several lakes, including Canyon Ferry and Tiber. A hearing on HB 567 will be held March 9 in the House Tax Committee
  • Senate Bill 116 would deny workers’ compensation benefits to injured workers who make false statements on work-related forms. A hearing on the measure will be held March 21 in the House Business Committee
  • Senate Bill 184 would deny workers compensation benefits to injured workers who commit fraud in their efforts to obtain benefits. The hearing here is March 10 in the House Business Committee
  • Senate Bill 327 would raise the exemption on business equipment tax from $100,000 to $350,000. This hearing will be March 9 in the Senate Tax Committee.

Get Involved

Getting involved in the 2017 Legislature is easy. The best way to have your voice heard quickly is to phone 406-444-4800. Operators are on hand in the Capitol Building to take messages for up to five legislators on each call, and delivery is within a half an hour.

More information on:

  • locating legislators
  • getting an e-mail address
  • viewing committee meetings and floor sessions on television or over the internet
  • review all hearings
  • reading of the actual bills …

… can go to www.leg.mt.gov and access everything electronically.

Previous Legislative Reports

February 24 Report—Income Tax Proposals Stall; Gas Tax Increase Revving

February 17 Report—Slowest Session in 16 Years Has Not Slowed NFIB

February 10 Report—NFIB Helps Defeat Costly Workers’ Compensation Proposal

February 3 Report—Skirmish Over Funding Montana Legislature

January 27 Report—Montana Legislature Ponders Tax Credits for Startups

January 20 Report—NFIB Helps Defeat Montana Minimum-Wage Bill

January 13 Report—NFIB Readies Opposition to Montana Minimum-Wage Bill

January 6 Report—Montana Legislature Opens Biennial Session

[Tile photo of Rep. Nancy Ballance courtesy of The Montana Legislature]

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