Small-business groups announces support or opposition to other measures
State Director Ronda Wiggers reports from Helena on the legislative and political week ending January 6.
The Legislature got off to a fast paced start this week. Now that rules have been adopted and committees organized, lawmakers will focus on the work they were elected to accomplish.
In last week’s review, I mentioned HB 41 Revise laws to expand incumbent worker training eligibility. The current law requires that any business which uses the grant cannot have more than 50 employees. This proposal will eliminate that cap and open the grant money to all Montana businesses. The state wants to expand the program because the money is not always getting used with the current limits. As the parameters changed, NFIB simply monitored this bill. After this bill is finalized, we will promote the use of the funds to our members.
UI Theft and Penalties
HB 142 Revise laws related to unemployment insurance theft and penalties was heard January 6. This bill closes a small loophole where people falsely claimed UI benefits, but did not do so in sworn statement, but with a fraudulent invoice.
EV Charging Stations
The House Transportation Committee heard HB 55 Establishing a tax on electric vehicle charging stations on January 6. Although NFIB has taken no position on the bill, it will monitor them in order to be able to inform our members of their options if they choose to install these at their place of business. This bill would require the establishment with the charger to pay a 3-cent-per-kWH for road tax. This can be added to the charge to the customer.
Hearings of Interest This Week
- Tuesday, January 10: House Judiciary – HB 161 Generally revise computer crimes. This bill adds substantial language to the crime of unlawful use of a computer to update the statute. It includes intentional introduction of a virus, the stealing of data, ‘hacking’ a computer to alter data and tracking someone via computer without authorization. NFIB Position: Monitor.
- Also on January 10, Senate Judiciary – SB 95 Generally revise theft laws. A few years ago, the Legislature re-wrote the theft laws to reduce the burden on the courts. NFIB opposed many of those changes. The changes made writing bad checks for less than $500 almost unpunishable and theft of property up to $1500 in value only a fine of $500. These changes led to increases in property theft and stolen checks. This bill will revert that legislation so that the fine aligns more closely with the amount stolen and jail time is once again a possibility for repeat offenders. NFIB Position: Support.
Other Bills NFIB is Supporting
- SB 121 Reduce top marginal income tax rate and increase EITC. Bills passed in 2021 have already set the stage to eliminate the need to file ‘married filing separately” in Montana and reduce the top marginal rate to 6.5%. If you will recall, prior to 2021, the top rate was 6.9 and they reduced it to 6.75% in 2021. This proposal takes the top marginal rate down to 5.9%. It also increases the Earned Income Tax Credit from 3% of the national amount to 10% of the national amount.
- SB 126 Provide funding for Montana State Fund. In 2017, in order to balance the budget, money was “taken” from the State Fund accounts for use in the general fund. This is money that was paid into the State Fund by account holders as premiums. This was done over the objections of most business groups and the State Fund. The current surplus allows for the money to be repaid to the State Fund, and this bill proposes to do that with a transfer of $33.58 million from the general fund surplus to the State Fund.
Bills NFIB is Opposing
- HB 201 Revise minimum wage laws. Proposes to increase the state’s minimum-wage rate to $11.39 an hour and remove the ability of businesses grossing under $110,000 per year to pay a minimum wage of $4 per hour.
- LC 4215 Wage Opportunity & Transparency Act. This would be an entirely new law that would require an employer to post the pay scale with a job opening. If an employee is going to be promoted, it would require the employer to also post that job opening and wage to all employees, rather than just make a promotion. It makes it illegal to prohibit employees from sharing their pay information and provides an avenue for any employee to litigate for damages if they feel they are being paid less than an equal co-worker. The bill provides a rebuttable presumption that if an employer does not have two years of records to prove otherwise, they are guilty of wage discrimination.
Bills NFIB is Monitoring
- HB 136 Adopt MT revised Unclaimed Property Act. Because any gift certificates that are unused are considered unclaimed property, NFIB generally keeps an eye on these bills. They are expanding the definition of unclaimed property and changing a few of the procedures.
- SB 22 Revise independent contractor laws. This is cleaning up a bill from last session that had good intentions but was poorly written. The intent is that if an employer hires a contractor that holds themselves out to have an IC and then does not, the employer would not be fined. However, the bill was written a bit too broadly. SB 22 would define the law for only those that are truly IC situations.
- LC 172 Generally revise online commerce laws. This legislation is an attempt to thwart those who shoplift merchandise and then sell it online. This bill defines a “third party seller” as someone who sells online that is NOT a wholesaler for the marketplace platform and/or does NOT disclose their business address and contact information to the general public. If the “third party seller” sells over $20,000 in merchandise in one year, the platform operator is required to obtain information to determine who they are, where they are located and where they bank. The contact information must be disclosed to the public at that time. If the seller refuses to disclose this information, they are to be blocked on the marketplace platform.
Pro – the increase in shoplifting has hurt many businesses and online marketplaces make it easy for shoplifters to sell their goods.
Con – this will likely result in an extra step of paperwork for legitimate businesses wanting to market online and those that are stealing will simply create numerous fake business names to keep all of them under $20,000 in sales.
- LC 1002 Prohibit employee termination for legal social media posts. This bill is in Executive Review and pretty much does exactly as the title says. The proposal would apply to personal social media accounts, not those intended for business-related purposes. The ability to terminate if an employee uses social media to disclose trade secrets, releases proprietary, confidential or financial data, or conducts criminal defamation remain in the law.
- LC 3930 Create a mini-COBRA law for small employer health insurance plans. As the title states, this creates the legal requirement for businesses with less than 20 employees to offer insurance coverage for 18 months – longer in some specific cases – for terminated employees. As with COBRA, the employee is obligated to pay the premium.
- HB 192 Use Surplus Revenue for Income tax and Property tax refunds and payment of bonds. This bill proposes to use $650 million to provide up to $1,250 income tax relief to all Montanans. No one would receive more than they actually paid in taxes. It allocates $250 million for up to $1,000 in property tax refund to each household. Again, limited to the actual amount paid. The property tax relief is only for primary residences and not for commercial property. $100 million would be used to buy down bonds.
This link will take you to the list of bills NFIB is watching. It is an active link that will automatically update as information changes. Once a bill is drafted, you can click on the link to read the text. As the bill moves through the process, you can track its progress and even watch the recordings of the hearings through this page.
Previous Weekly Reports and Related Information
- January 4—Small Business Day in Helena, January 18
Photo courtesy of the Montana Legislature website