New Montana Laws Include Tax Cut, Drug Registry

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – New Montana laws going into effect Friday include a business equipment tax cut and a new prescription drug registry that officials say will go a long way to curbing abuse of the narcotics.

More than 70 new state laws are slated to go into place July 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year and a common implementation date for legislation. Most make very small administrative changes or adjustments in state code

The list is perhaps topped by stiff new medical marijuana regulations — but they must make it past a judge considering temporarily blocking them before Friday. That high-profile court fight has garnered attention from around the state.

But other laws are slated to go into effect on Friday, including the state’s new budget hammered out by Republican leaders and Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

The budget deal spends less in state tax money than Schweitzer originally proposed, such as for higher education, but spends more of that “general fund” money than Republicans wanted in a proposal sent him earlier this month. Spending of state tax money is slated to decrease about 6 percent over the next two-year budget period.

Other proposals formally going into place Friday include the drug registry advanced by Attorney General Steve Bullock that makes it more difficult for people to obtain prescription painkillers from multiple doctors. Rulemaking will start after Friday and officials hope to have the registry operational by January.

“It really has the potential to curb doctor shopping,” said Bullock. “It really addresses a public health issue.”

Law enforcement has become increasingly worried about the abuse and trade in prescription narcotics, and the prevalence of teen abuse by a drug. Bullock noted that it is a different drug problem for police to fight since it is legal in many cases to get the drugs.

Bullock said the registry will let doctors check a Web site to make sure they aren’t giving the narcotics to someone who is doctor shopping or already has multiple prescriptions elsewhere. That will give the doctors assurances they are properly prescribing the medication.

“We want to make sure these drugs are saving lives and not ending them,” Bullock said.

Pharmacies would be required to report when they fill a prescription for drugs such as narcotics, stimulants and depressants. Oversight from the Board of Pharmacy will allow checks for possible misuse and diversion of controlled substances.

The much-heralded business equipment tax cut goes into law Friday, although 2012 will be the first tax year it would apply to.

The first $2 million in equipment will be cut from 3 percent to 2 percent for all businesses operating in the state. It would be reduced further if certain economic triggers are met, and estimates say it would ultimately cost state coffers about $23 million a year.

Many other high-profile pieces of legislation from the legislative session that ended in April went into effect immediately, or will do so on Oct. 1, the most common implementation date for new laws.

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