HELENA — An estimated 17,000 small businesses in Montana will be exempt from paying the state's business equipment tax under a new law that takes effect on Wednesday.
The reduction in the business equipment tax is one of a handful of bills passed by the Legislature last spring that become law with the new year.
Starting Wednesday, businesses will be exempt from paying taxes on their first $100,000 in equipment. That means if a small business has less than $100,000 in equipment, it won't have to pay any of the tax. Previously, businesses with less than $20,000 in equipment were exempt.
The state's business equipment tax is a levy on items from forklifts to farm machinery.
Gov. Steve Bullock's office estimated 17,000 businesses in the state will be exempt from the tax with the new law.
The law also reduces the tax rate from 2 percent to 1.5 percent for the first $6 million in equipment. The rate jumps to 3 percent for more than $6 million in equipment.
Senate Bill 96, sponsored by Republican Sen. Bruce Tutvedut of Kalispell, was hailed as a bipartisan victory to bring tax relief to small businesses when the Legislature passed it in April and Bullock signed it.
The changes will mean more than $5 million in lost revenue to the state's general fund in 2014, $14.4 million lost in 2015 and more than $11 million lost in each of the two years after that, according to a fiscal analysis by legislative staff.
Other laws that take effect Wednesday include:
• Senate Bill 34, which requires insurance companies to make efforts to find the beneficiaries of unclaimed life insurance policies. If a beneficiary is not found, the benefits are turned over to the state Department of Revenue as unclaimed property.
• Senate Bill 270, which requires insurers to provide the same coverage for health services provided by "telemedicine" — videoconferencing, for example — as for face-to-face doctor visits. Sen. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, said he sponsored the bill after hearing reports of claims being turned down, and that rural residents who can't afford to travel for care depend on telemedicine.
• Senate Bill 275, which allows military veterans to have the word "Veteran" on their drivers' licenses or identification cards. The change is expected to cost $65,000 in computer and equipment upgrades, but legislative analysts estimate that cost will be covered after two years by veterans obtaining replacement cards.
• House Bill 545, which allows an employer to pay for part or all of an employee's individual health insurance coverage. The previous law forbade employers with up to 50 employees from paying for part or all of a worker's individual policy.
• House Bill 444, which gives a $500 tax credit to landowners to provide public access through their properties to reach isolated parcels of state land. Landowners who can provide multiple access points to parcels can receive up to $2,000 in credits.
• Senate Bill 57, which makes the email addresses of military members and expatriates voting electronically confidential.