The Economic Affairs Interim Committee moved to reintroduce in the 2021 Legislature a bill from a previous session to provide incentives to expand broadband or coaxial cable to more parts of Montana. One difference from SB 239 would be to require those who get incentives to provide mapping data.

That draft will be available for discussion and public comment at the committee's next April 30-May 1 meeting. Both the House and the Senate passed SB 239 in 2019, but the governor vetoed the bill based on fiscal concerns.

Also at its Feb. 12-13 meeting, the Economic Affairs Interim Committee heard from members of Montana's tourism industry about how regions and local convention and visitors bureaus interact with the state's Department of Commerce to promote tourism in Montana. The committee also reviewed distributions of the lodging facility use tax, the subject of an assigned study, and asked for more details about types of grants and uses of the more than $30 million generated by the tax each year. :

On another study assigned to them, legislators heard how the Department of Labor and Industry reviews applications for professional or occupational licenses when applicants have a criminal record. The data show less than 1% of all applicants are denied because of a criminal record. However, the data cannot show those who never filed an application out of concerns about rejection. More study-related details came from the head of Montana Correctional Enterprises who noted 70% of prisoners enter without a high school diploma or its equivalent. She also described the types of job-related assistance available at the prison. 

The committee asked for more information, particularly related to record expungement and juvenile records as well as the length of time traffic violations are on file. The committee will review a draft of a final report but did not propose legislation related to the study.

In a vote taken a day ahead of a planned discussion about defining prosthetic devices in workers’ compensation, the committee decided 8-2 to formally object to the Department of Labor and Industry's proposed rule. The formal objection is a way of allowing the full Legislature to consider a bill on the subject rather than letting the rule be a substitute.

In other action, the committee:

  • Voted to make available a letter of support for broadband providers in Montana who are applying for U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development grants;
  • Requested additional information on alcohol-related issues, including options regarding a liquor warehouse and Department of Revenue alcohol rules that were withdrawn; and
  • Requested information on how workers’ compensation rates were developed for firefighters’ presumptive disease coverage.

Members of the committee are: Sens. Jason Ellsworth (R-Hamilton), Nate McConnell (D-Missoula), Frank Smith (D-Poplar), and Gordon Vance (R-Bozeman) plus Reps. Derek Harvey (D-Butte), Josh Kassmier (R-Fort Benton), Mark Noland (R-Bigfork). Vince Ricci (R-Laurel), Katie Sullivan (D-Missoula), and Sharon Stewart-Peregoy (D-Crow Agency).

For more information about the committee see the committee website or contact committee staff by email or at 406-444-3594.

The Legislative News.