Houses passes first in long line of workers’ compensation measures
NFIB/Montana State Director Riley Johnson’s report from the State Capitol for the legislative week ending January 20.
This has been one of the slowest developing sessions of the Montana Legislature in memory.
Except for a few minor bills of non-partisan value, and for lengthy talks about budgets and revenue projects, there have been very few bills read into the record and thus being heard in committees for action.
In fact, as of January 20, not a single new bill emerged from the Montana Senate for consideration.
Sen. Scott Sales, president of the Senate, says it is because of the developing budget and revenue talks among legislators. You have to know what money you have before you start spending it, he said.
Minimum-Wage Bill Killed
The one highlight for NFIB/Montana was in the tabling, i.e., killing it, of House Bill 169. This was the minimum-wage bill by Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell (D) of Helena, which called for a rise in the rate to $10.10 per hour from its current $8.15 per hour. NFIB/Montana was first in line at a January 16 hearing on HB 169, citing its inflationary and job-killing effects as reasons for rejecting it.
The next day, the House Business and Labor Committee tabled the bill on an 11-to-8 vote along party lines.
Fees on Electric Vehicles
Another measure heard on Monday was House Bill 205 by Rep. Alan Redfield (R) of Livingston.
Heard in the House Transportation Committee, HB 205 would place fees on the use of electric vehicles and on vehicles utilizing various alternative fuels besides gasoline. It did raise some eyebrows, however, when the last item in this bill placed a $15 registration fee on all new bicycles sold to anyone over the age of 18 for use in building and maintaining bike trails. HB 205 is still in committee awaiting action.
One of the more contentious issues facing the 65th session of the Legislature is Montana’s infrastructure of roads, bridges, wastewater systems, and drinking water facilities.
As an example, on January 17, the Senate Finance and Claims Committee heard a measure by Sen. Jon Sesso (D) of Butte, Senate Bill 88, which would establish a Montana Trust Account in the Coal Severance Tax Fund to pay for long-term infrastructure projects statewide.
Immediately after the hearing, the committee put the bill on hold until all the infrastructure bills expected to come out have been put on the table.
The first of a long line of workers’ compensation bills expected this session was held for a hearing on January 19 in the Senate Business Committee, after passing the House 98-2 earlier in the week.
House Bill 132 by Rep. Nate McConnell (D) of Missoula was a State Fund-requested bill that altered how to contest a workers’ compensation claim. The hearing was canceled, however.
And, finally, a bill was heard January 20 in the Senate Business Committee of major concern to NFIB/Montana.
House Bill 88 by Rep. Moffie Funk (D) of Helena passed last week through committee and the House floor on a vote of 65-38. This measure would alter the procedures by which a small Montana business could apply for the Incumbent Workers Training Program.
This act awards up to $2,000 per incumbent workers (employed longer than six months) for training in specialties like accounting and excel spread sheets to further their job opportunities. The money is an appropriation from the general fund every two years, and it is matched by a 20 percent participation from the employer. It was pointed out in the hearing that $650,000 is allocated each year from money paid into a fund from the unemployment insurance revenue charged to all employers. Proponents testified how this money is gobbled up within six months each year by small employers looking to offer education and advancement to current employees.
The Week Ahead
Coming up next week is an interesting bill NFIB/Montana will be watching and monitoring carefully. House Bill 188 by Rep. Jim Hamilton (D) Missoula would revise income tax laws related to capital gains from a sale of a business, providing an exclusion from adjusted gross income for certain capital gains from investment in an established business. This bill will be heard on January 24 in the House Tax Committee at 8 am in room 152 in the Capitol.
On January 25, there will be three bills heard in various committees all at 8 am.
- Senate Bill 116 would disallow workers’ compensation coverage to employees who made false statements
- House Bill 276, a pricing measure for small, independent pharmacies so they do not lose money on filling prescriptions.
- House Bill 249 would allow small businesses to deduct student loan payments to employees.
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.
For 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 …
… go to www.leg.mt.gov and access everything electronically.
Previous Legislative Reports