When the Legislature came to town in early January, it seemed clear that jobs would be the No. 1 issue of the session. Now that the Legislature is past the halfway point, this is a good time to reflect on how the people’s branch is doing on that key issue.
In just two months, the Legislature made good progress on delivering positive legislation targeted to help with the creation of good-paying jobs. Sure, there are some sensational bills on other issues that get a lot of media attention, but there are also several bills that encourage businesses to expand, hire new workers and grow our state’s economy.
First and foremost, the Legislature has made progress on addressing one of the top job-killing problems in the state: workers’ compensation costs. House Bill 334 (introduced by Scott Reichner, R-Bigfork) has passed out of the House and awaits action by the Senate. Legislators in both parties are working together to develop a compromise bill that can get signed into law. If we want Montana to be a great place to work and do business, we must reform our costly workers’ comp system.
Second, after hearing from Montana’s entrepreneurs on Jan. 8, the Legislature has moved forward two bills aimed at ensuring government doesn’t burden small businesses with unnecessary regulation or new laws. House Bill 100 (Gordon Vance, R-Bozeman) and Senate Bill 201 (Edward Walker, R-Billings) say state government needs to look at impacts to small businesses before new laws are passed during the session or when new rules are written during the interim.
In addition, bills are moving through the process to address employer concerns about the use of medical marijuana in the workplace. Much attention has been placed on the House’s vote to repeal the law, but there are several more bills aimed at increasing regulation and oversight for medical marijuana. House Bill 43 (Gary MacLaren, R-Victor) clarifies the law to ensure that employers have the right to make important business decisions regarding an employee’s use of medical marijuana.
Another area that has received attention is the issue of legal reform. When Montana improves its legal climate, it also improves its business climate. A number of tort reform bills are moving forward in the 62nd Legislature: reforms to pre/post-judgment interest rates, establishment of appeal bond caps, and medical malpractice reform to bring down the cost of healthcare.
In response to the overwhelming support for increased responsible resource development, the Senate has acted on two bills that will create jobs and add more revenue in the future for schools. Senate Bill 233 (Jim Keane, D-Butte) and Senate Bill 317 (Chas Vincent, R-Libby) attempt to remove the ability of obstructionist environmentalists from filing frivolous lawsuits to block responsible development. If Montana were to reach its full potential in this arena, we would no longer have to deal with budget cuts and finding money for schools.
The second half of the session is often reserved more for budget and tax issues, so we look forward to working with legislators in both parties to reduce the business equipment tax, make the tax code simpler for businesses and individuals, and keep other taxes low during this recovery.
These are just a few examples of the good pro-jobs bills and ideas moving forward in Helena. We are encouraged by the progress we see on many key proposals this session that will help businesses create jobs and grow our state’s economy. While there may be proposals that stray from the top issue of job creation, know that the Legislature is also moving forward good legislation as well. Contact your legislator soon to encourage them to finish the job and help get Montanans back to work.
Jon Bennion is the Government Relations Director for the Montana Chamber of Commerce.
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