In his first weekly report on the new session, NFIB/Montana State Director Riley Johnson discusses the new legislative lineup and progress on bills already moving through the process.
The 65th Montana Legislature opened on Jan. 2, 2017, with many organizational duties and numerous joint sessions of the House and Senate. Members were informed about the rules and budget proposals from both lawmakers and the administration of Gov. Steve Bullock.
The Montana House of Representatives is composed of 59 Republicans, the same ratio as the last session in 2015, and 41 Democrats. There are 29 new lawmakers, i.e. rookies, in the House, not counting any previous senators who were term-limited and decided to continue their legislative involvement by running for a House seat.
In the Senate, Republicans hold 31 seats to the Democrats’ 19 seats, again, not counting any former House members running for Senate seats. This is a three-seat difference from 2015.
The president of the Senate is Republican Scott Sales of Bozeman. The president pro tempore is Sen. Bob Keenan (R) of Bigfork. The majority leader in the Senate is Sen. Fred Thomas (R) of Stevensville. The senate minority leader for the Democrats is Sen. Jon Sesso (D) of Butte.
In the House, the speaker is Rep. Austin Knudsen (R) of Culbertson, and the majority leader is Rep. Ron Ehli (R) of Hamilton. The speaker pro tempore is Rep. Greg Hertz (R) of Polson. On the Democrat side, the minority leader is Rep. Jenny Eck (D) of Helena.
This session will be 90 days in length, ending the last week of April. The Legislature does not count any days in which iy did not formally meet in session. A good part of the week was consumed by many bi-partisan speeches and commentary between the two political parties. It is yet to be seen if those words will rein within the halls of the Capitol for the next four months.
Action on Two Bills
The only two bills heard in committee this week of interest to NFIB/Montana were House Bill 88 and House Bill 125.
- HB 88, by Rep. Moffie Funk (D) of Helena and at the request of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, would broaden the current workforce training program in the state, which provides grants to small employers for training workers in current or future jobs. The present law limits the size of businesses eligible for such grants at 20 employees or less. HB 88 expands that to 50 employees or less. NFIB/Montana supported this bill, and it passed through committee unanimously. It will now go to the Senate for consideration. There is no projected fiscal cost to this expansion, as the total amount of money available for such grants is the same as before.
- HB 125, by Rep. Willis Curdy (D) of Missoula and also requested by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, would streamline the current workforce investment and innovation board and bring the law up to federal standards. NFIB/Montana supported this bill, and it passed committee on a unanimous vote. It, too, now goes to the Senate for consideration.
The Agenda Ahead
Of particular interest to NFIB/Montana was House Bill 169, has was also introduced. This measure would raise the minimum wage in Montana. No hearing date has yet been set, but the bill will probably be heard next week in the Business and Labor Committee.
NFIB/Montana will be following other bills of concern and interest to its 5,300 members across the state. These potential bills include:
- workers’ compensation
- private property regulations
- business equipment tax
- income taxes
- health care
Stay informed each week as NFIB/Montana will be issuing these legislative reports on bills affecting small business. A simple email to [email protected] will get anyone on the mailing list for these reports. Or call 406-443-3797 for the NFIB/Montana office and request that your name and email be placed on the distribution list.
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.