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Legislative video conference includes revenue estimate, other topics

Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, said during a video conference with Hi-Line residents and officials Tuesday in Havre that a revenue estimate for setting the state budget is moving forward, and he expects it will be sent to the House today.

"We are making progress this session, " Jergeson said.

The estimate passed by the Senate Taxation Committee, on which Jergeson sits, predicts the state will generate more than $4 billion in revenue for the general fund in the 2014-2015 fiscal years, within 1 percent of the estimate from Gov. Steve Bullock's office.

Jergeson said that in the last few sessions, the Legislature never passed a formal revenue estimate.

The estimate is used to set state spending in each legislative session.

The legislators at the video conference, sponsored each week by Havre Public Schools and the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, talked on a variety of issues.

Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, greeted the roomful of people at Robins School Administrative Building, then had to leave to attend an informational session on a school funding bill introduced by Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad.

Havre Public Schools Superintendent Andy Carlson said during last week's video conference that the bill is a joint effort including several educational organizations in Montana, and that the Havre district supports the bill.

Jergeson also discussed a bill in the Senate Taxation Committee that proposes changing the cycle of property tax reappraisals from a six-year cycle to a yearly or two-year cycle.

He said the proposal would benefit some property owners and hurt others, depending on whether they are in a place with declining property values — where the bill would more quickly reduce the taxes owed — or increasing values, where the bill would raise taxes more quickly.

Another issue is "sticker shock, " he added, where the six-year cycle can create a very large increase over one year.

"There is a lot of angst over that bill, " Jergeson said.

Jergeson answered a question raised last week by Havre businessman Brad Lotton as to whether legislation has been introduced to improve the workers' compensation program in Montana.

Jergeson said Tuesday that he checked with members of the Senate committtee where such a bill would start, and that he knows of no bills introduced. The committee members said their primary focus this session is on dealing with projected shortfalls in state pension funds.

Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Chinook, said at least one bill dealing with workers' comp has been requested in the House, by Rep. Scott Reichner, R-Bigfork, House Bill 82,

That bill amends provisions about coverage of Montana workers who leave the state due to their employment, and employees of out-of-state companies working in Montana.

Richard Cronk said a bill is moving through the Legislature that would amend trespassing laws, House Bill 235.

"I would oppose that bill, " he said.

Warburton said she doubts that the bill will pass out of committee.

Lotton also expressed support for a proposal to move school elections to the same day as general elections. He said that school elections usually have a low turnout, and setting the votes on the same day might increase that.

Jergeson said that proposal, generally opposed by election administrators, raises some concerns. He said it could insert the partisanship normally seen in general elections into what is supposed to be a nonpartisan election.

"I am going to be a hard sell on that particular bill, " Jergeson said.

Havre businesswoman Debi Rhines said the business community has some concerns over a bill that would change requirements of drug testing. While the business community is not opposed to increased requirements, the original proposal required sending employees to locations such as a clinic for the tests. If the testing can be done in-house, many businesses are not opposed, she said.

Warburton raised an issue being discussed in the House Judiciary Committee, on which she sits, that brought an extensive discussion in the video conference. A proposed bill would illegalize the sale of manufactured drugs that mimic the affects of illegal drugs but are marketed as not for human consumption, typically as bath salts or "spice, " she said.

Havre City Council Alderman Andrew Brekke and Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Jim Limbaugh said the use of those drugs is rising and that they would support legislation to control it.

"It has shown up a couple of times (at Northern), " Limbaugh said. "That would be helpful for us. "

Brekke said Havre law enforcement officials have said use of drugs like bath salts and spice are on the rise.

"I'm generally not in favor of adding laws …, " he said, "(but) whatever the Legislature can do on that we would certainly respect and support. "


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