Small Business Victories from the 2021 Montana Legislature

Date: May 19, 2021

Winning liability protection against unfair COVID lawsuits delivers on top agenda item

The 2021 session of the Montana Legislature is in full swing but already NFIB has scored a major victory.

Won Liability Protection Against Unfair COVID Lawsuits

NFIB had lobbied and testified extensively for passage of Senate Bill 65, which Gov. Greg Gianforte signed into law on February 10. Quite simply, the new law states, “a person is not liable for civil damages for injuries or death from or relating to exposure or potential exposure to covid-19 unless the civil action involves an act or omission that constitutes gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, or intentional tort.” With his signature, the governor made Montana the 17th state to have some form of liability protection against lawsuits accusing small businesses of being the source of someone’s contracting COVID-19, which could have been contracted anywhere.

Raised the Business Equipment Tax Exemption

NFIB pressed hard for the final version of House Bill 303, increasing the amount of business equipment that is exempt from taxation from the current $100,000 to $300,000.

Secured State Income Tax Reductions

NFIB successfully pushed for passage of two bills affecting state income taxes. The first was Gov. Greg Gianforte’s Senate Bill 159 that reduces the top bracket from 6.9% to 6.75%. Although this is a small decrease, when combined with SB 399, it will reduce it further to 6.5%. SB 399 is a total re-write of the Montana income tax code. It changes our starting point to federal taxable income rather than gross income, and it eliminates the marriage penalty and the need to file separately. SB 159 is set to become effective first, with the more complicated SB 399 following for tax year 2023.

Obtained Tax Credit for Trades Education

With support from NFIB, House Bill 252 creates a non-refundable employer tax credit for employer-paid trades education. The program does not need to be through a College of Technology nor approved by any state agency.  Simply, the employer pays for an employee to get trade/technical training and can receive a tax credit for 50% of the cost, up to $2,000 per employee with a cap of $25,000 per business. It can even cover a week of continuing education for product-specific training.  There is a list of 26 trades that can use this credit. 

Helped Revise Wrongful Discharge Act

NFIB lobbied for passage of House Bill 254, which revises the state’s Wrongful Discharge Act to:

  • increase the probationary period from six months to 12 months
  • add “the employee’s material or repeated violation of an express provision of the employer’s written personnel policies” as a reason to dismiss for good cause
  • add being absent from work for more than five days without explanation as cause
  • limit the amount of damages a dismissed employee can receive. 
Won Uniformity in Auxiliary Container Regulations

With a push from NFIB, House Bill 407 establishes statewide uniformity for auxiliary container regulations and will prevent a local government from passing any laws that bans single-use or any particular type of packaging.

Lessened Severity of Consumer Protection Act

NFIB fought for passage of House Bill 472 which revises liability under the consumer protection act. It limits treble damages in a civil liability action (under the consumer protection act) to only awards of less than $100,000 and dis-allows attorney fees if over $100,000 is awarded. 

More information about what happened in the 2021 session can be read here.

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