This week is transmittal week at the Legislature. The House and the Senate have reached the 45th Legislative Day, which is the half-way point of the 90-day Session. Non-revenue bills must be transmitted from one chamber to the other on or before the 45th day or such bills are considered “dead” for the Session. Revenue bills have until March 30th to be transmitted from one chamber to the other. The six Appropriations Sub-Committees completed budget recommendations and will present them to the full House Appropriations Committee as part of the session- long effort to adopt and pass a budget (HB 2) acceptable to the Governor and the Legislature. The appropriations Committee will conduct hearings and executive action on the budget the week of March 6th.
As of today, 990 bills have been introduced of the 2581 bill draft requests. For this Report, in addition to the budget, the following topics and bills are highlighted:
Local Government Optional Tax Authority:SB 331, sponsored by Sen. Mike Phillips, was introduced on Feb. 24th to grant authority to cities and counties to adopt a local option luxury tax upon voter approval.If adopted, the revenue must be used for “critical infrastructure projects” and must include property tax relief.
Infrastructure Funding:1. The Governor’s budget includes $292 million for identified projects, including the Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena, Romney Hall on the MSU campus, and a veteran’s home and care facility in Butte.2. HB 473, sponsored by Rep. Frank Garner, would raise the statewide gasoline tax by 8 cents per gallon.The increase is estimated to provide about $35 million in new revenue for State highways and about $24 million in new revenue for local governments.A 20% match would be required for the local government share. The Bill was heard this week in House Transportation Committee.Commissioner John Ostlund testified for MACO and Yellowstone County. 3.The Billings Area Legislative Delegation is unanimously supporting an additional $5 million for the MSUB Science Building.This funding is expected to be included in HB 5 or some other infrastructure bill under consideration by the Legislature.
Revising the Tax Appeals Process:Yellowstone County will monitor and support bills introduced to improve and decrease the time it takes to resolve tax appeals, particularly appeals involving centrally assessed and industrial properties.
Daily Detention Center Rates:HB 230, sponsored by Rep. Don Jones, would have set reimbursement rates for detention centers at “actual” costs.Commissioner Ostlund supported this Bill at the Committee hearing.The Bill passed 2nd Reading in the House and was rereferred to the Appropriations Committee.It was tabled on Feb. 8th and missed the transmittal deadline.
SB 2, sponsored by Sen. Pat Connell, would clarify when a gathering of a quorum of county commissioners does not constitute a public meeting of the commissioners.The Bill passed the Senate on Feb. 15th and will be heard in House Local Government on March 7th.
SB 72, sponsored by Sen. Pat Connell, is a firefighter presumptive illness bill. Unlike presumptive illness bills considered in previous Legislative Sessions, this Bill restricts the covered diseases and is funded by the State instead of the workers’ compensation system.The Bill passed the Senate on Feb. 18th.It will be heard in House Business & Labor Committee on March 8th.
SB 139, sponsored by Sen. Duane Ankney, would allow certain K-12 school district expansions.It would permit Lockwood and East Helena to include a high school in their districts.The Bill passed the Senate on Feb. 18th.
SB 151, sponsored by Sen. Dee Brown, would add a new legislative interim committee for local government topics.These matters are now part of the combined Education & Local Government Interim Committee.This Bill passed the Senate on Feb. 24th.
SB 203, sponsored by Sen. Nels Swandal, would have revised animal cruelty laws, requiring that costs of care be paid by the owner.It failed on 2nd Reading in the Senate on Feb. 23rd and missed the transmittal deadline.
SB 231, sponsored by Sen. Roger Webb, would designate Airport Road in Billings from Main Street to the Airport as the “Senator Conrad Burns Memorial Highway”.Commissioner Pitman supported this Bill in Committee.It passed the Senate on Feb.22nd and will be heard on March 8th in House Transportation Committee.
SB 257, sponsored by Sen. Roger Webb, would have revised solitary confinement laws.The Bill was tabled in Senate Finance & Claims on Feb. 24th.
SB 305, sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, provides that the special election to fill the vacancy in the office of US Representative may be conducted by mail ballot.The Bill passed the Senate on Feb. 24th.
HB 44, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Essmann, has been amended to add three, instead of five, new State District Judges in Montana (2 in Yellowstone County, and one in Missoula County).Commissioner Driscoll supported this Bill at the House Judiciary Committee hearing.The Bill passed the House on Feb. 22nd.
HB 61, sponsored by Rep. Frank Garner, would revise the allocation of 9-1-1 fees and provide for Next-Generation 9-1-1 services.Although not part of the Bill, the Governor’s budget transfers about $12 million from the 9-1-1 reserve to the general fund, which is contrary to the purpose of the 9-1-1 system.HB 61 has passed the House.
HB 83, sponsored by Rep. Bryce Bennett, revises, corrects and modifies election laws passed in the 2015 Session.It passed the House.A hearing in the Senate Committee was held Jan. 30th.
HB226, sponsored by Rep. Zac Perry, would allow an increase of the amount of the property tax abatement for new or expanding industry. The Bill passed the House and was heard in Senate Taxation Committee on Feb. 17th.
HB 287, sponsored by Rep. Bryce Bennett, would make the voter absentee roster permanent.It has passed the House.
HB 405, sponsored by Rep. Rob Cook, generally revises several local government administrative laws. It passed the House on Feb. 21st.
HB 408, sponsored by Rep. Steve Lavin, would have increased the tax on rental cars from 4% to 5% and used the revenue to fund programs to expand commercial air service in Montana.It was tabled in House Appropriations Committee on Feb. 24th.
HB 442, sponsored by Rep. Virginia Court, would have provided a tax exemption for public parks operated by not for profit organizations.It was tabled in House Taxation on Feb. 23rd.
HB 509, sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Patelis, would designate 6 miles of Interstate 90 between mile 445 and mile 451 in Yellowstone County as the “Deputy Sheriff David L. Briese, Jr. Memorial Highway”.The Bill passed the House on Feb. 28th.
In future reports, I will identify other topics and bills of interest to Yellowstone County.