The Legislature is nearing the halfway point of the 90-day session. Some really big bills are being debated now.
The biggest news is that the tax cuts have started. Two tax reform bills had hearings this week. One of them reduces the business equipment tax. You may have heard of this tax, especially if you're a businessperson. When any Montana business buys equipment to help them with their business — like a combine for a farm, or a backhoe or a motor grader for a contractor — the state taxes them. The problem with that is it inhibits job creation. When a business buys new equipment, they have to hire people to run it. That means jobs for Montanans. But the business equipment tax penalizes businesses for buying new equipment. So lowering this tax will create more jobs for Montanans.
The other major tax bill is an across-the-board, permanent property tax relief bill. This bill will provide $100 million dollars worth of tax relief for Montanans over the next few years.
Property taxes have been a subject where there's a little bit of disagreement this session. The governor wants to provide a one-time rebate, but the majority in the Legislature prefers a long-term tax cut. The House Taxation Committee, which I am on, will vote on that bill Monday, and we certainly hope the governor will sign it.
We also passed some major bills defending our Second Amendment freedoms this week. Foremost among them was a measure that ensured the state of Montana would not help with any gun ban from Washington, D.C. As you may have read, Congress is talking about banning certain kinds of semi-automatic rifles. But that's not something Montanans support. Your state House of Representatives voted that, if Washington, D.C., does that, our state government will not enforce it.
Next week, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill to prevent assisted suicide. The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill, House Bill 505, out of committee on a 12-8 vote. I have heard from several of you regarding the dangers and improprieties surrounding assisted suicide, and I plan to vote for HB 505.
Finally, the House moved forward the first of two solutions for the “corner crossing” issue. It's a complicated issue. There are some parcels of public land that can't be reached, because they're surrounded by private property. One of the proposed solutions to that issue was to simply allow people to trespass where the corners of private property and public property meet, since jumping from one corner to another didn't seem like that big a trespass to some people.
But hunters pointed out that, between hauling out game, four-wheelers or other equipment, sometimes it's not possible to cross at the corner without touching private property. So the majority in the House of Representatives brought forward a better bill. We provided new funding for the block management program to compensate landowners if they let the public access their land, especially land that corners with public land. That, plus another bill that would require FWP to negotiate and purchase corner easements with landowners, will make it easier for us to get access to our public land.
Additionally, forcing FWP to use their funds for easements will keep FWP from making purchases like the Milk River Ranch purchase that diverted fishing and hunting access monies from better and cheaper access projects. Both of these bills make for a better solution than legalized trespassing, which puts hunters and landowners at odds with one another to everybody's detriment.
I always look forward to your input on each of these issues. Please let me know what your thoughts are on these and other issues important to you.
(Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, represents parts of Hill County.)