The Legislature’s Economic Affairs Interim Committee chose at its Nov. 7 meeting to limit its study of whether to expand emergency care providers’ activities, particularly related to veterans, and decided Nov. 8 to get information from more sources related to its study of workers’ compensation, specifically the future of Montana State Fund.
In addition to the workers’ compensation study, the committee began work on studies of emergency care providers under Senate Joint Resolution 32 and of unemployment under SJR 20. For SJR 32, a six-person panel reviewed two bills whose demise in the 2017 Legislature prompted the study. Panelists’ main points were that a range of services already exists to help veterans. They suggested greater use of existing services and training opportunities. In informally determining to limit further SJR 32 analysis, committee members said they might reconsider later and request a bill draft to align statutes for emergency medical technician licensing with the licensing statutes in Title 37 rather than the facility licensing statutes in Title 50.
The committee’s study of unemployment, particularly in high-poverty counties, featured the Department of Labor and Industry’s chief economist explaining variations in unemployment rates. Barbara Wagner outlined the difficulties of gathering specific information in a rural, lightly populated state. She also noted that other data may help in understanding employment gaps and job vacancies. That, in turn, she said, helps the unemployed to target training or apprenticeships.
For the SJR 27 Montana State Fund study, the committee heard from employers, insurers, and individuals with experience in providing or analyzing states’ approaches to workers’ compensation. Committee members asked that independent insurance agents be invited to the February meeting to assess workers’ compensation comparison shopping. The committee also requested legal analysis of the ownership of Montana State Fund’s assets.
As part of its regular duties, the committee heard from three of the nine state entities that the committee monitors. The directors of the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce plus the head of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development gave updates and responded to committee members’ questions about efforts to help businesses devastated by fire or reduced demand. In response to questions about a $500,000 grant spent on site improvements for a proposed Cowboy Hall of Fame, a Commerce official said the expenditure met the terms of the contract but the state did not control opening of the nonprofit facility proposed for Big Timber. When asked how to avoid similar future situations, the Commerce official suggested any land-related grants require long-term leases.
The committee also heard from the Department of Labor and Industry about its new role to actively supervise boards for antitrust concerns. The department is in the process of determining if there is a compelling public policy behind current Board of Dentistry rules related to denturist practices.
For information about the Economic Affairs Interim Committee, visit the committee website or contact Pat Murdo, committee staff.