The Local Government Interim Committee’s March 14-15 meeting agenda ran the gamut from tax increment finance and local government funding and accounting to local fire and emergency services, tourism impacts on communities near national parks, and affordable housing. By the meeting’s conclusion, the committee had directed staff to draft for members’ review in July several potential committee bills related to its assigned studies as well as other agenda items.
After dedicating the first half of the interim to examining challenges facing local fire and emergency service providers within and outside of municipalities, committee discussion turned toward various solutions. In response to information gathered as part of its two assigned interim studies, House Joint Resolution 25 and Senate Joint Resolution 21, the committee requested that bill drafts be prepared to allow for the formation of regional fire authorities, to require workers’ compensation coverage for volunteer firefighters, and to create a fireworks safety fee.
A regional fire authority bill envisions allowing any two or more local fire entities, including a rural fire district, fire service area, fire company, county fire department, or municipal fire department, to combine to create a single entity for the delivery of fire protection and emergency services. Participation in formation of an authority would be at the discretion of interested local fire jurisdictions and local governing bodies, and creation of an authority would be subject to voter approval. As requested by the committee, the draft will also allow for certain mid-sized municipalities to annex into an adjacent rural fire district for fire protection services. Language for the draft is derived from a similar law in Washington, as well as from Montana statutes governing creation, financing, and governance of special purpose districts.
At the direction of the committee, draft legislation requiring workers’ compensation for volunteer firefighters will include provisions similar to those of Senate Bill 54, requested by the Economic Affairs Interim Committee and introduced during the 2013 session.
Draft legislation creating a fireworks safety fee will be modeled after similar laws in other states, with revenue from the fee proposed to be directed toward firefighter training and financial assistance to volunteer fire departments for provision of workers’ compensation coverage, among other possible uses.
In response to information gathered as part of the emergency medical service system portion of its SJR 21 study, the committee has requested that draft legislation similar to Senate Bill 104 (2017) be prepared for members’ review in July. SB 104 proposed to facilitate development of community health EMS by recognizing the practice in statute and providing for its regulation.
The committee will also review draft legislation to allow the Department of Administration to accept simplified financial reports from certain small local entities, to revise enforcement provisions of the Local Government Single Audit Act, to establish housing tax credits, and to modify the committee’s enabling statute to remove temporary provisions governing appointment of committee members.
Finally, after having hosted discussions with local government representatives and members of the 2000 Local Government Funding and Structure Committee, which was responsible for crafting the local government entitlement share funding mechanism, the committee approved a letter to the Legislative Council requesting that information about the origins and intent of the entitlement share funding program be incorporated into legislator training scheduled for late this fall and early 2019.
The committee’s final meeting of the 2017-2018 interim will be July 11-12.
For more information on the committee’s activities, please visit the committee’s website or contact Leanne Kurtz, committee staff.
LGIC is led by Sen. Roger Webb (R-Billings), presiding officer, and Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell (D-Helena), vice presiding officer. Other members are Sens. Fred Thomas (R-Stevensville), Cydnie (Carlie) Boland (D-Great Falls), and Margaret (Margie) MacDonald (D-Billings); and Reps. Adam Hertz (R-Missoula), Dave Fern (D-Whitefish), and Jeremy Trebas (R-Great Falls).