Montana Legislature

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Legislative Update: Friday, Jan. 20

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Guardianship bill gets a hearing
By Freddy Monares
Republican Sen. Roger Webb is sponsoring a bill that would pave the way for an organization like the Chicago-based Safe Families for Children to set up a network in Montana of volunteer host families where distressed parents could place their children. “Safe Families is a loving, non-judgmental safety net parents can rely on for help, advice, support, without the fear of losing custody of their children,” Webb said. Senate Bill 117 would make it possible for Montana parents to give up guardianship temporarily. Shannon McDonald, deputy chief counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services, spoke in opposition to the bill. “The bill itself contains no protections for children,” she said. Continue Reading →

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Bill would ban bicyclists from most 2-lane roads in state

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Editor’s note: Rep. Barry Usher called back after this story was posted. We have included his comments at the end of the story. Bicyclists from around the state are rallying against a proposed bill that would ban bicyclists and pedestrians from using virtually every two-lane road in the state that doesn’t have a paved shoulder. Kristi Drake, director of Billings TrailNet, said her first thought was not to worry about the proposal because it seemed to have so little chance of passing. (more…) Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Thursday, Jan. 19

Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell speaks Thursday during a committee hearing on her bill that would raise taxes on new gas and oil wells.

Higher taxes on gas, oil wells sought
By Freddy Monares
Lawmakers in Helena are considering a bill that would put money back into the state’s main revenue fund by increasing taxes on new oil and gas wells. House Bill 215 would remove what is called a tax holiday, which is a tax incentive for oil and gas companies during the first year of production. “I consider this low-hanging fruit,” said bill sponsor Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena. The bill estimates that the measure would bring more than $600,000 into the state’s general fund over the next four years. But Montana Petroleum Association lobbyist Jessica Sena had this caution: “Certainly prices may increase, we may be able to attract new investment back into Montana, but I would say that that’s a gamble to bet any increase on your general fund monies on these hypothetical situations.” Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Wednesday, Jan. 18

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Bed-tax diversion draws opposition
By Freddy Monares
A bill that would divert the state’s bed tax money to create a tourism and trade center in Canada is riling filmmakers. That’s because Senate Bill 75 would also cut the budget for promoting filmmaking in Montana from $1.1 million to about $200,000. Sean Becker, the administrator of the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development, said, “The Department of Commerce is mandated, and I quote, ‘to use bed tax collections for tourism, promotion, promotion of the state as a location for the production of motion pictures and television commercials.’”

Montana Outfitters and Guides spokesperson Jean Johnson was the only supporter of the bill. “We think that $200,000 is not a big price to pay for a Canadian presence and all that it can lead to,” Johnson said. Rep. Bridget Smith, D-Wolf Point, said she has a bill in the hopper that would provide a tax incentive for filming in Montana. Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Tuesday, Jan. 17

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Bill would ban energy drinks from SNAP purchases
By Cole Grant
Montanans who get get government help buying food won’t be able to use benefits to buy energy drinks if House Bill 153 passes the Montana Legislature. Rep. Vince Ricci, R-Laurel, explained his interpretation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP: “It is designed to stretch your food budget and buy healthy food. So my reason for bringing this bill is I don’t see energy drinks as being a healthy food.”

Rep. Jessica Karjala, D-Billings opposes the bill. “I just think that really, the point of this legislation is to have the conversation, and to plant that idea in people’s minds that poor people don’t have good discretion, that they’re not responsible for making good choices with their money,” she said. “It’s vilification of the poor.”

The House Human Services Committee will hear HB 153 Wednesday afternoon. Continue Reading →

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Montana Viewpoint: Hidden spending needs review, too

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Montana is experiencing a cash flow problem and the governor and legislators are looking at ways to balance the budget. To do this, the Republican-controlled Legislature is looking at cutting funding to services that benefit Montanans. Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, is looking at cutting some of that funding as well, but he is also looking at raising revenue to prevent cuts by increasing taxes on incomes over $500,000, basically recovering a portion of a tax break enacted in 2003, discussed below. (more…) Continue Reading →

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Legislative Update: Monday, Jan. 16

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Minimum-wage increase debated
By Freddy Monares
Lawmakers in Helena are trying to figure out how much the cost of a hamburger would go up if they raised the state’s minimum wage. House Bill 169 would raise the minimum wage to a little more than $10 an hour, almost $2 more than the current level. That has some small-business owners worried. Bennington Ward is the owner of the Golden Harvest Café in Dutton. He says an increase in the minimum wage would also increase overhead costs for business owners. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers weigh privacy issues in the digital age

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Section 10 of the Montana Constitution states that “the right of individual privacy is essential to the well-being of a free society and shall not be infringed without the showing of a compelling state interest.”

But as technology rapidly advances, finding the line between individual privacy and “a compelling state interest” is more complex than ever before. In response, the 2017 Montana Legislature will begin to make distinctions, wrestling with bills that deal with issues like cell phone data, GPS-enabled heart monitors and even “revenge porn.” (more…) Continue Reading →

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Budget gets top billing, but plenty on the table in Helena

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Budget subcommittees proposed further cuts to Gov. Steve Bullock’s budget throughout the second week of the Montana Legislature. “If we can get through the budget and balance it, that will be probably all we can do,” said Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton. (more…) Continue Reading →

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Prairie Lights: Putting the public in public records

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The people who wrote the new Montana Constitution, ratified in 1972, were admirably clear on the subject of access to public records. Under the heading of “Right to know,” in Section 9 of Article II, the Declaration of Rights, the constitution says: “No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.” (more…) Continue Reading →

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