At The End Of All Things

This thing all things devours;
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats mountain down.

The answer is *redacted* …. Of course, I’m not just going to give away the answer. But the answer is running out on the 68th Legislative Session. For some, it can’t come soon enough. Last week saw contentious remarks on the House Floor, leading to House Rules deliberations. While over in the senate, the first official sine die motion to conclude the session was offered. It was made in jest, considering the legislature is required to pass a budget and they had not yet done so. However, it signals an appetite for ending this session, that it’s time for lawmakers to wrap things up and head home. 

At this point, there are 10 legislative days left, but it’s possible they wrap things up by Friday. The budget bill, HB 2, has made it through the house and will have its 2nd reading on the Senate Floor today. There are only a couple dozen bill hearings this week since a number of committees have concluded their work. Despite hearing talk today suggesting otherwise, I’m holding fast to my wager that the legislature goes sine die by Friday of this week. Which will make this the last update newsletter this session so I want to offer a brief accounting of the wins realized from the 68th Legislative Session. With almost 1,700 bills introduced, it would be difficult to sum it all up in one sentence. But from our perspective, I think it’s safe to say it was a good session for business. Numerous bills addressed our priority areas and over 100 bills of “Red Tape Relief” were passed, making business interactions with government less burdensome. Below are a few of the key bills passed this session.

Tax Reform

HB 212 – Increase business equipment tax exemption

Rep. Joshua Kassmier (R) HD 27

This bill increases the business equipment tax exemption from $300,000 to $1 million. For Yellowstone County, that means significant savings to our business community. There are 502 entities with business equipment tax liability in tax year 2022. House Bill 212 would fully exempt 273 entities, reduce liabilities for the remaining 229, and provide a total savings of $1.293 MILLION to businesses in Yellowstone County.

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

Sen. Becky Beard (R) SD 40

This bill lowers the top marginal income tax rate from 6.5% to 5.9% and increases the state earned income tax credit (EITC) from 3% to 10% of the federal EITC. The Department of Revenue estimates SB 121’s reduction of top marginal tax rate will result in a tax savings of $20.5 million for Yellowstone County taxpayers in tax year 2024. With many of our small businesses filing as pass-throughs, this means more money to reinvest in their businesses and in our local economy.

Public Safety

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

Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe (R) HD 43

The bill requires the state to increase reimbursement to county jails from $69/day to the greater of $82/day or 10% below the daily rate for the private prison in Shelby for every state inmate housed in county facilities. While the estimated cost of housing inmates in the Yellowstone County Detention Facility is about $100/day, this bill is a significant improvement. 

SB 94 – Generally revise laws related to recovery residences

Sen. Barry Usher (R) SD 20

The bill requires the registration of sober living residences. It also requires sober living residences to have administrative oversight, quality standards, emergency, eviction, and resident policies and protocols. In order for sober living residences to receive referrals from a judge, justice of the peace, or magistrate they must be certified by a recovery residence certifying organization recognized by DPHHS.

SB 95 – Generally revise theft laws

Sen. Barry Usher (R) SD 20

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 also increases the fine for property theft over $1,500 from up to $10,000 to up to $50,000, or 10 years in prison, or both. 

Montana’s Workforce

SB 323 – Allow for duplex, triplex, and fourplex housing in city zoning

Sen. Jeremy Trebas (R) SD 13

This bill eliminates exclusionary zoning by allowing additional homes to be built on a lot. Many local zoning codes mandate exclusionary zoning throughout a majority of residential areas, including Billings, making housing less available and more expensive. The Governor’s Housing Task Force identified this as recommendation (3B) in its final report. 

SB 382 – Create the Montana Land Use Planning Act

Sen. Forrest Mandeville (R) SD 29

This bill makes a number of changes to land use and zoning processes. It requires cities to analyze existing and projected housing needs and provide regulations that allow for the rehabilitation, improvement, or development of the number of housing units needed. Cities must select a minimum of five housing strategies listed in the bill to accommodate needed housing.

HB 245 – Revise tax credit for trades education and training

Rep. Sue Vinton (R) HD 56

This bill builds on the success of the Montana Trades Education and Training Tax Credit, established last legislative session, which offers a credit for 50% of an employee’s education, up to $2,000 annually. HB 245 expands the number of occupations and industries that qualify for the tax credit. The Department of Labor estimates the current credit covers 38,000 employees. The expansion offered by HB 245 would include an additional 31,130 employees.

HB 652 – Revise UI law relating to benefit duration

Rep. Steven Galloway (R) HD 24

This bill revises the duration of unemployment benefits from 28 weeks—1/2 a year—to 20 weeks. Currently, Montana has one of the longest unemployment benefit durations in the U.S. Our businesses face continual workforce shortage challenges, reflected in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Shortage Index, designating Montana as one of the most severely impacted. A reasonable reduction in the length of unemployment benefits is likely to result in more unemployed people returning to the workforce and helping our businesses. You can see everything the Billings Chamber worked on this session on the Chamber’s Business Advocacy webpage

Here At The End of All Things

Members, I hope these newsletters have been useful. I’ve greatly enjoyed the opportunity to represent and advocate for our Billings business community throughout this legislative session. Those of you who also receive our City Council Bulletin, you can expect to see those hitting your inboxes in a few weeks (I plan to take a little time off from weekend work). For those who are interested in receiving the City Council Bulletin, please just reply to this email and we’ll get you signed up. Lastly, be sure to register for our Partners in Policy Appreciation Reception on May 2nd!

“I bid you all a very fond farewell.”

Partners In Policy Appreciation Reception (May 2 tentative)

You’re invited to a Partners in Policy reception, presented by the Billings Chamber of Commerce and Montana Chamber of Commerce, on Tuesday, May 2nd from 5:30 – 7:30 pm at the historic Billings Depot.

Come connect with chamber members, industry representatives, and legislators as we raise a glass in celebration of the business wins this legislative session. This was the Montana Chamber’s most prolific legislative session ever, carrying (10) Priority Bills that would improve the business climate in the Treasure State. Regarding the Billings Chamber’s priorities, the legislature made major progress on public safety, tax reform, and workforce issues. From sweeping tort reform to dramatically decreasing the business equipment tax and capital gains tax, to ballot initiative modernization, we are tackling the issues to make Montana the most attractive place to live, work, play, visit, and do business. We would like to thank you, our ‘Partners in Policy’ for helping to make this possible.

Reception will include drink tickets and a cash bar, hors d’oeuvres, and a brief presentation. RSVP’s are required for this event. Let us know you’ll be attending by submitting your RSVP today! 

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 just want to chat about the legislature.

Email Dan Here