In final week of Legislature

Lawmakers pass school repair fund, Real ID bill and trimmed ‘Ferarri tax’
By: 
Freddy Monares and Cole Grant
University of Montana, School of Journalism, UM Legislative News

By Freddy Monares and Cole Grant

University of Montana 

School of Journalism

UM Legislative News

 

HELENA -- One of the final bills the Montana Legislature passed before adjourning would create a special state fund for major public school repairs.

Senate Bill 307 would, among other things, allow school districts to temporarily raise property taxes -- without putting it on a ballot -- in order to meet a state match for these repairs.

The bill had already passed the Legislature, but the governor returned it to the House with a with a different reporting date.

“It’s a good way to get local participation in this quality schools program,” said Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad during the House discussion on the final bill.

House Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Hertz, R-Polson, opposed the bill and said voters should decide what they pay taxes on.

The House voted to pass the original bill by a wide margin and the Senate passed it unanimously. The House voted 78-21 on the final version of the bill. 

-By Cole Grant

 

Legislature passes bill 

to comply with federal 

“Real ID Act”

The Montana Legislature passed a bill that offers a compromise on the 2005 federal “Real ID Act,” which standardizes state identification cards. 

At the end of this year, a Montana driver’s license could no longer be used for air travel or access to federal facilities because it does not comply with the federal standards. 

Senate Bill 366 would give Montanans the option of paying a fee for a special license that complies with the federal guidelines. The bill now goes to Gov. Steve Bullock. 

The bill was amended in a free conference committee to allow the Department of Justice to borrow up to $4.6 million from the Board of Investments to pay for an information technology system and other costs for implementation. Under the bill, the loan would have to be paid back in 10 years.

It also appropriates $1.852 million starting this July from a state special revenue account for the Department of Justice. The amendment includes a provision that if the state receives an extension for compliance, that appropriation can be pushed back a year. 

“The fees would remain at the $25 and $50, so that we can make the loan payments and the department would only be drawing on the account as needed,” said Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, who carried the bill. 

Those prices would be lower than a passport, which Cohenour said Montanans will need to fly if the state does not comply.

Up until this year, the state has been able to get extensions because licenses were being continually updated. This year the state’s request for an extension was denied, forcing the state to make a compromise. 

-By Freddy Monares

 

Gov. Bullock vetoes 

13 bills, including 

criminal trespass bill

While Gov. Steve Bullock has signed more than 230 bills into law so far from the 65th legislative session, he’s vetoed 13. One of those recently vetoed bills tried to update the state’s trespass laws.

House Bill 231, among other things, would have required someone to have written permission or a valid rental agreement to be on residential property. If someone didn’t have either of those, or wasn’t invited, they could be removed from the property immediately.

It would’ve also made it criminal trespassing for someone to knowingly and unlawfully enter or stay in an unoccupied structure.

In the bill’s hearing earlier in the session, Great Falls landlord Chris Christiaens said it took him four months to get rid of an unwanted drug operation from a property he owned. 

He said he had to replace every door in the building, pull up the carpet, and in one room he said he found more than 150 hypodermic needles and syringes.

“By the time I got that apartment back in shape for renting, it was $7,500. I don’t know how many landlords can afford to have that happen,” Christiaens said.

Mark Murphy with the Montana Association of the Chiefs of Police opposed the bill, and said the courts should handle rental disagreements.

“Giving law enforcement this power to determine when there is a valid rental agreement is not good policy, and we don’t want that job,” Murphy said.

In the veto letter, Bullock described the bill is un-neighborly and unconstitutionally vague. He also echoed the Chiefs of Police, saying that expanding the criminal trespass definition this way won’t work for law enforcement.

-By Cole Grant

 

Legislature trims 

‘Ferrari tax’

In the final days of the Montana Legislature, lawmakers passed a bill that makes adjustments to the statewide budget and other bills that had already passed both houses.

Earlier in the week, a free conference committee, comprised of members from the Senate and House, amended Senate Bill 95 several times to include adjustments to multiple bills. 

One of those changes would adjust House Bill 650, or what has been referred to as the “ferrari tax.” The amendment would set a flat tax of $825 instead of a percentage tax on newer vehicles that cost more than $150,000. For newer motor homes that cost more than $300,000, the tax would be set at $800.

Sen. Eric Moore, R-Miles City, supported the amendment at the hearing.

“We had a percentage tax on these high-priced vehicles concept prior to negotiations with the industry. They felt this more palatable,” Moore said.

Rep. Randy Brodehl, R-Kalispell, said the Senate tried to put the amendment on the bill, but didn’t have time to properly explore it. Lawmakers, auto dealers and the governor have come to the table to find a compromise, he said.

“I don’t know that anyone was tremendously happy with any of the changes, but we were all probably equally unhappy with it. That makes it a pretty good amendment,” Brodehl said.

Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings, did not support the bill during debate in the House. He said conference committees shouldn’t be the way the Legislature does business. 

“This is not how we are supposed to act,” Zolnikov said. “We have committee processes, we have an entire process here. This makes that null and void - the entire process becomes null and void.”

-By Freddy Monares

 

Cole Grant and Freddy Monares are reporters with the UM Community News Service and the UM Legislative News Service, which are partnerships of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Newspaper Association, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.

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