By Ron VandenBoom
With 150 bills scheduled to be acted upon by the Montana House of Representatives before Friday's transfer deadline, it becomes difficult to choose which bills might be the most loved or hated. But John Musgrove, D-Havre, a freshman in the legislative arena, has seen a few come through committee that catch his interest.
Primary among these is HB-587, sponsored by Helena Republican, Rick Laible.
The essence of the bill would require a single property owner, or contractor/developer, not be required to bear burdens deemed for the public good when those burdens should be borne by the public as a whole.
Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher told Musgrove in a recent telephone conversation that as near as he could determine the bill could place an additional burden on taxpayers to provide for basic services such as water, sewer, curbs, and streets anytime a developer wants to create a subdivision.
Kaercher said Tuesday that currently the developer must pay for the creation of easements in a subdivision and for the installation of sewer lines and water lines.
"He's the one that stands to profit from the sale of the properties," Kaercher said. "Why shouldn't he be the one to pay for the public services."
The bill could, Kaercher said, obligate the taxpayer to foot the bill for installing these services.
The actual language of the bill in Section 5 76-3-510 answers Kaercher's concerns by stating that local government may require a subdivider to pay, or guarantee payment, for part or all of the costs of extending capital facilities such as water, sewer or public roads. But Section 5 does exempt developers from paying all or part of the cost of constructing or extending facilities related to education.
The language goes on to exclude the use of fees collected by local government from being used on facilities outside of the subdivision for which they were collected.
Local government is also given a period of three years to use the funds they collect or return them to the contractor or developer.
Musgrove expressed concern over the complicated language in the bill and the possibility taxpayers could be stuck paying for privately owned subdivisions.
Musgrove, like other legislators, is also wrestling with the energy issue.
Dave Gallik, D. Helena, has proposed HB-445 - a wholesale energy transaction tax that Musgrove said may be the most helpful plan available at this time to help consumers with increased energy expenses.
The bill will collect a tax from the producer based on the kilowatt hours introduced onto transmission lines from the electrical generation facility.
The funds collected from the tax would then be funneled back to consumers to help lower their utility bills.
Musgrove said this would probably not come as a check in the mail, but would show up as an adjustment on a consumers utility bill.
While Musgrove sees the plan as the most likely way to help consumers in this session, he said he realizes the plan could run into Constitutional issues by affecting interstate commerce.
"You would have to be careful how it's applied so you don't get in trouble with federal legislation," he said.
Butch Waddill, R. Florence, has proposed HB-211 that would place a moratorium on the production of genetically modified wheat (GMOs) for two years.
Musgrove said he has mixed feelings about the bill fearing that the introduction of new genetically altered seed might lead to disruptions in other organisms in the environment, including perhaps insects, that are beneficial to farmers or crops.
"It might cause more harm than good," Musgrove said. "What if we give them the go-ahead and something happens?"
Musgrove said it is better to error on the side of caution.