The legislature is all done . . . with the first half of the 68th Legislative Session. Forty-five legislative days into the constitutionally allowed 90, lawmakers receive a brief intermission to return home and recharge. After the marathon days last week, everyone including legislators, staff, media, lobbyists, and paper suppliers could use a little pause.

(photo courtesy of Shaylee Ragar)

This time is known as the transmittal break and is one of the first critical deadlines in the legislative process, the transmittal of general bills—policy bills that aren’t revenue, appropriations, or referenda bills. Montana has a bicameral—consisting of two chambers—legislature with a Montana House of Representatives and Montana Senate. For a bill to pass into law, it must pass one chamber, then the second, and finally get signed (or not vetoed) by the governor. For those general bills that have not made it through one of the chambers and into the other by the transmittal deadline, they are considered probably dead. According to the state’s legislative website, 387 of the 1,413 introduced bills are probably dead. Those interested in exploring other bill stats should check out the state’s data dashboard (scroll down on the leg.mt.gov homepage).

Billings Chamber’s Work So Far

You can see all the bills the Billings Chamber has supported or opposed by heading to our Business Advocacy webpage

To highlight a few we’ve supported:

SB 245 – Freedom to Build Housing Near Jobs Act

The bill makes multifamily housing and mixed-use development (with housing) a permitted use in commercial areas, allowing housing to be built near jobs. It passed the senate with strong bipartisan support, 40 – 10

HB 546 – Reauthorizing Coal Trust Mulitfamily Home Loan Program

The bill authorizes $15 million of coal tax trust monies to fund affordable housing loans in the state. It unanimously passed the (H) Taxation committee and received a bipartisan 91 – 9 vote on second reading.

SB 104 – Exempt retired military pensions from income tax

The bill exempts the lesser of 50% military retirement pay or the taxpayer’s Montana wage income. It passed (S) Taxation committee with bipartisan support, 11 – 1

SB 121 – Reduce top marginal income tax rate and increase EITC

The bill reduces the top marginal tax rate, resulting in a tax reduction to Yellowstone County taxpayers of $20.5 million in TY 2024. It passed the legislature and awaits the governor’s signature.

HB 212 – Increase business equipment tax exemption

The bill increases the BET exemption, removing over half of the Yellowstone County entities from BET tax rolls, saving our businesses a total of $1.3 million in taxes. It passed the legislature and awaits the governor’s signature.

HB 174 – Require costs paid to detention centers be based on actual costs

The bill would require the state to increase inmate reimbursement from $69/day to the greater of $82/day or 10% below the daily rate for the private prison in Shelby. It passed the house with strong bipartisan support, 91 – 6.

SB 94 – Revise laws related to recovery residences

The bill would require the registration of sober living residences, that they operate with certain policies and protocols, and that they receive certification in order to get referrals from a judge, justice of the peace, or magistrate. It passed the senate with strong bipartisan support, 43 – 5.

SB 95 – Generally revise theft laws

Among other changes, this bill raises the penalties for the first offense of up to $1,500 in property theft to a maximum fine of $1,500, up to 6 months imprisonment, or both. Currently, the penalty is a fine up to $500, a mere 1/3 of the what the value of theft could be. It passed the senate 36 – 14

Legislators return to Helena on Thursday and have 19 total bill hearings this week. Then it’s back to business as usual, conducting almost 200 hearings each week as they work to conclude everything before May 5th, legislative day 90. The budget, HB 2, will be a major focus in the next 30 days as the house has until April 3rd before it needs to finalize, approve, and submit it to the senate. Passing a balanced budget is actually the only thing our legislature is required to do each session. To see the current budget status, considering the 1,413 introduced bills, you can check out the General Fund status sheet to see how proposed legislation impacts the budget. Current estimates show a balanced budget extending to the next legislative session in 2025.

Lastly, be sure to check out the Session Calendar to see the remaining deadlines legislators face heading into the home stretch. And stay tuned as we keep you up to date with this second half of the session. Maybe it’s just me, but I think this is where the fun begins.

Working for You

Senate Bill 444

Revise laws related to work-based learning

Sen. Jason Small (R)

SD 21

Billings Chamber: SUPPORTS

This bill would increase liability protection for our agritourism businesses. It expands the definition of agritourism to provide additional clarity and specifies the assumed risks in agritourism such as the natural conditions of the land and the presence of animals and insects. With over 250 legal cases involving agritourism businesses listed by the National Agricultural Law Center, this bill should bring some additional reassurances to our businesses in an important industry. The bill will be heard Tuesday in (S) Ag, Livestock, and Irrigation at 3:00 pm.

House Bill 546

Reauthorize coal trust multifamily homes loan program

Rep. Dave Fern (D)

HD 5

Billings Chamber: SUPPORTS

The Chamber has been strongly supportive this session of pro-housing legislation aimed at reducing housing regulations and governmental barriers that make it more difficult for the private sector to address our affordable housing crisis. At the same time, we also support successful programs that can help aid the provision of attainable, workforce housing. This bipartisan-sponsored bill would authorize an additional $15 million of coal tax trust monies to fund loans for multifamily housing. The program was originally passed in 2019 and has resulted in the provision of 252 affordable apartments in Montana, including some in Yellowstone County. The bill was heard last Friday in (H) Taxation.

Legislative Videoconferences

Noon – 1:00pm

January 19th

February 2nd: Billings REALTORS

February 16th: Big Sky EDA

March 2nd

March 16th: Downtown Billings

March 30th

April 13th

Videoconference sessions will be held in the Liberal Arts Building, Room 208 at the MSU Billings campus, where individuals will have the opportunity to hear from, and ask questions of, our local legislators. There is a limit of 25 people for each in-person session and a box lunch will be provided for those who RSVP. Come and hear from our local legislators about what is happening in Helena and give your feedback. Thanks to MSU Billings and our sponsors: Billings Association of REALTORSBig Sky Economic DevelopmentDowntown Billings Alliance, and the newly certified LEED Gold, City of Billings.

Virtual Testimony Makes It Easy

  • You will be able to select from the bills scheduled for the next 3 days. 
  • By 5PM the day before the hearing, you will be able to submit your written testimony, write a brief message, or request a Zoom link to testify in the bill hearing.
  • Fill out the form with the pertinent details and submit. You will receive an email confirmation.
  • You do not have to testify in order to submit written comments. Written comments received by the deadline will be distributed to all committee members. However, if you request a Zoom link, we request that you write a brief message in the event of technical difficulties so that your name will be entered into the record. 
  • If you wish to submit written testimony after the 5PM deadline, please call the Information Desk at (406) 444-4800 for assistance​.
  • Rules of decorum must be followed, and the Presiding Officer will call on you when it is your turn to speak. Follow the Zoom directions and raise your hand to let the Remote Committee Coordinator know when you want to speak. We will not assume that because you requested the Zoom link that you automatically want to testify.  There may be limits placed on how many people are allowed to testify remotely on each bill.

Additional Resources

Business Advocacy Sponsors

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Billings Chamber’s Business Advocacy Director, Dan Brooks, with questions, comments, or if you just want to chat about the legislature.

Email Dan at daniel@billingschamber.com