Law banning gay sex in Montana removed from the books

Linda Gryczon, the lead plaintiff in the MT Supreme Court case throwing out the state's ban on homosexual sex, celebrates the law's official removal Thursday

Linda Gryczan, the lead plaintiff in the MT Supreme Court case throwing out the state’s ban on homosexual sex, celebrates the law’s official removal Thursday

“I am not going to speak too long,” Governor Steve Bullock told the cheering crowd packed into the rotunda of the state capitol building. “Because frankly, the longer I talk the longer this unconstitutional and embarrassing law continues to stay on our books.”
Bullock shortly thereafter signed Senate Bill 107, which officially removes a law criminalizing homosexual sex in the state. The Montana Supreme Court struck down the law 15 years ago, but state legislators kept the law on the books.
Helena lobbyist Linda Gryczan filed the original suit which led to the Supreme Court nullifying the ban. A gay woman, Gryczan said the Thursday ceremony to remove the defunct law meant a lot more than if the legislature would have dropped it shortly after the 1997 Supreme Court decision.
“Because (that) would have followed the normal course of what you’d expect, unconstitutional law, you take it off the books…it makes sense,” Gryczan said. “Unfortunately to a lot of people, prejudice got in the way and we had to fight that prejudice.”
A bill to toss the law failed every other attempt before the Montana Legislature before this year. This time, the Senate voted 38-11 to pass the law. The House passed it with a 64-35 vote.

Representative Jerry Bennett (R-Libby)

Representative Jerry Bennett (R-Libby)

Representative Jerry Bennett (R-Libby) was one of the 35 Republicans who opposed the bill. He says he’s against the bill on religious grounds, but it was not a hateful vote. “God says we’re to love one another…but I still have to remain true to my beliefs in God and what he asks of us and so balancing that is a very difficult thing at times.”

The final debate on the House floor was largely between Republicans, with many arguing to remove the law to recognize individual rights and privacy. Arguably the most passionate testimony in favor of SB107 came from Representative Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip), who has a gay daughter.
To say she is any less of a person, or she is a criminal for her lifestyle, really upsets me. And for anybody that would feel that way—upsets me,” Ankney said, pointing at the other lawmakers. “I don’t think God thinks any less of my daughter than he does of any one of you in here.”
Montana Human Rights Network Lobbyist Jamee Greer says the passage of SB107 is “the first explicit victory for the LGBT community through the (Montana) legislature in history.” He believes it may be a watershed moment for gay rights in the state.

Governor Steve Bullock signs Senate Bill 107 with Rep. Bryce Bennet (left) and Senator Tom Facey looking on.

Governor Steve Bullock signs Senate Bill 107 with Rep. Bryce Bennet (left) and Senator Tom Facey looking on.

GOP hoping property tax cut measure can fit in budget

Representative Scott Reichner (R-Big Fork)

Representative Scott Reichner (R-Big Fork)

Republican lawmakers in the House are running out of time to pass their two priority tax-cut bills through the legislature. HB230, sponsored by Rep. Scott Reichner (R-Big Fork) and  HB472, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Bennett both need to clear out of a very busy House Appropriations Committee by Monday to realistically make the transmittal deadline for spending bills next Thursday.

The Appropriations Committee has already passed their $9 billion dollar two-year budget plan. At this point, the budget is about one percent over what the Governor requested and leaves an ending fund balance about $175 million less than the current balance.

Is there room for this property tax bill included in that?” Asked Reicher about his HB230. “We’ll see.” Reichner’s bill cuts property taxes in half–across the board. It would remove about $100 million in income from the state budget over the next two years.

“It rewards the property taxpayer from across the state of Montana,” Reichner said, “Whether you’re residential, ag, coal, mining, commercial–you’re getting a…fair flat tax reduction.”

Representative Bill McChesney (D-Miles City)

Representative Bill McChesney (D-Miles City)

Representative Bill McChesney (D-Miles City) sits on the House Appropriations committee. He says he generally thinks cutting property taxes is “the right thing to do” but in the case of Reichner’s bill, “that will saddle the state of Montana with potential negative consequences into the future.” McChesney says the budget that was unanimously passed out of the House does not have enough extra money to make that tax reduction sustainable.

Reichner says it depends how much money the Legislature wants to leave in the bank for the next session–that ending fund balance. As of Friday, using the current House Budget, that ending fund balance is $291.4million.

“We’ve done anywhere from $50 million to $500 million in ending fund balance, just depending on what the forecast for the next two years are gonna be,” Reichner said. By law, that ending fund balance cannot drop below $41.8 million for this budget.

Rep. Bennett’s bill would drop the business equipment tax by increasing the exemption to $250 thousand (read about what that means here.) That bill would lower the budget by $22.5 million.

Governor Bullock’s top tax proposal, a one-time $400 tax rebate to homeowners, failed to reach the House floor. As for the other tax-cut bills, Bullock says he will wait until they reach his desk before he makes any decisions. “All of the tax bills, the questions I ask (are) ‘Long term, what’s it do to the budget?’ and also ‘Is the benefit going to mainstreet Montana, or elsewhere?'”

Sally and Mike talk tax cuts, Medicaid, abortion, assisted suicide and what’s next….

Johnson, Mauk & Dennison 3SMALL

Tonight on “Capitol Talk”, our weekly legislative analysis program, News Director Sally Mauk talks with Lee newspaper reporter Mike Dennison about tax cuts, Medicaid expansion, abortion, assisted suicide – and what happens next in the second half of the legislative session…

House votes on dozens of bills, including abortion and gun legislation

House lawmakers voted on dozens of bills Tuesday running up to the transmittal deadline on Thursday

House lawmakers voted on dozens of bills Tuesday running up to the transmittal deadline on Thursday

Montana Lawmakers are making their final push to vote on Legislation before what’s known as the transmittal deadline on Thursday.

As we reported, all non-money bills have to transfer over to the opposite chamber from where they started by then, or they die.

In a morning House Floor session, lawmakers took an important vote on a bill which would require parental consent before a minor can seek an abortion. The bill passed second reading 59 to 41, mostly on party lines.Sponsor, Rep. Jerry Bennett (R-Libby) says this bill follows up on a ballot measure passed by voters last November which requires parental notification before a minor’s abortion.

“This act, when passed will reinforce the right and responsibility that Montana parents take seriously, to be involved and get permission for a medical procedure involving their child.”

Missoula Democratic Representative Jenifer Gursky spoke against the bill, saying the vast majority of teens who are considering abortions do consult with their parents. Those that do not, she says, may have important reasons not to tell parents.

“They’re hard cases,” she said, “they’re the cases that include rape, incest or other situations that make it unsafe for a young girl to go to their parents.”

The abortion consent bill needs to pass one more final vote. If it does, it will move to the Senate.

In the morning session the House also gave final approval to a bill raising the amount of campaign money people can give to candidates.

Another bill to prohibit wrongful birth or wrongful life lawsuits–those are lawsuits against doctors who do not provide information to parents of birth defects in a fetus. The bill to prohibit those passed its final vote and heads to the Senate.

After the lunch hour. Representatives debated nearly two dozen more bills. A bill from Columbia Falls Republican Jerry O’Neil to allow guns on school grounds in locked vehicles was resurrected. The bill failed last Saturday on a 49 to 51. But the House voted to bring it back up for debate with a major amendment—striking the guns in locked vehicle component.

Representative O’Neil says he now agrees with some who voted against the bill: “The school trustees are the ones who should be responsible for deciding if their schools have shooting sports programs, whether their students should be allowed to bring their own firearms and how any firearms used in such programs should be stored while on school property.”

The bill now only changes how incidents where kids bring guns to school are handled. It changes language from a school official shall suspend that student to an official may suspend that student. There also would need to be a public hearing if the student was expelled. As amended, the bill passed 55 to 45. It still needs to pass a final vote before heading to the Senate.

Lawmakers will be voting on dozens more bills yet to be debated before Thursday.

What you need to know about the Business Equipment Tax debate

bull dozer

There are a number of bills before the Montana Legislature looking to lower the Business Equipment Tax in some way.

And the key words to remember are threshold and exemption.

Community News Service Reporter Amy Sisk and I talk through it:

Wednesday the House Taxation Committee heard Governor Steve Bullock’s proposal. It would increase the tax’s threshold from $20 thousand to $100 thousand. That means a company would not have to pay tax on the equipment they buy until they cross over that $100 thousand mark. (The definition of what constitutes business equipment is quite broad, pretty much everything except livestock and real estate.)

“We believe this bill is a keystone to creating jobs across the state of Montana,” Governor Bullock’s Budget Director Dan Villa told the committee. He says the measure would eliminate the tax for about 11-thousand small businesses.

Big Dipper Ice Cream in Helena is one of the businesses that pays Business Equipment Tax now but would not have to with the higher proposed threshold. Owner Anna Doran says she would put that extra money toward “expanding my wholesale business and paying my Seniors (more) who are starting college next fall.”

Several business groups like the Montana Chamber of Commerce also spoke in favor of the Governor’s Proposal, calling it a “step in the right direction.” Yet, they also said they would support Business Equipment Tax bills put forth by Republicans which create a tax exemption.

So, what’s the difference?

If a taxpayer crosses a threshold, they would need to pay tax on their full amount of business equipment.  as skeptical Representative Brian Hoven (R-Great Falls) put it, “If we have $99,900 in business equipment…we will pay no tax, but if we have $100,001 we will pay tax on $100,001.”

With an exemptionsay of $100-thousand again, the company would only pay tax on the business equipment purchased after crossing the $100-thousand mark. In the scenario put forth by Rep. Hoven, the business owner would pay tax on that $1 of the $100,001.  Representative Jerry Bennett (R-Libby) has a bill in the works to create an exemption on equipment purchased up to $250-thousand. Republicans argue this method would help more businesses.

Representative Mary McNally (D-Billings) is sponsoring the bill containing the Governor’s proposal. She says raising the threshold more fiscally responsible. Lawmakers  have lowered the amount of the Business Equipment Tax the past few Legislative Sessions. It will lower again from 2-percent to 1.5-percent this year. “We have been steadily decreasing this tax and increasing the amount we are taking out of other sources to make governments and schools whole.”

In the mid-90, the Business Equipment tax was 9-percent with no threshold.

In 2012, the Business Equipment Tax brought in more than $88 million to state government. It goes mostly to schools and local governments.