Governor signs bills requested by Havreites

Wilson dog treat bill, Melle child support bill, signed today


Havre Daily News/Derek Hann

Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, left, Paul Tuss, second from right and Keeley Wilson, right, look on as Stewart Wilson presents Gov. Steve Bullock with two bags of Keeley Wilson's Ladybug Bites dog treats. Stewart Wilson made the presentation after Bullock signed into law a bill sponsored by Bachmeier reducing licensing and registration expenses for small pet treat businesses like Keeley Wilson's.

Editor’s note: This version corrects the home town of Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena.

HELENA - Montana's governor was signing two bills today with ties to Havre.

Seven months after first receiving a letter from the Montana Department of Agriculture, Keeley Wilson, owner of the homemade pet treat business Ladybug Bites, watched first-hand as Gov. Steve Bullock signed House Bill 607 into law.

HB 607 was the first bill signed today by the governor.

"Are these made out of ladybugs?" Bullock asked Keeley as he signed the bill.

Stewart Wilson, Keeley's father, handed Bullock two bags of dog treats after he signed the bill. He said that he knew that Bullock had two dogs and thought that it would be a good gift.

Wilsons asked Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, to sponsor the bill to reduce restrictions on small-scale pet treat businesses.

Keeley Wilson, who has Williams Syndrome, operates her business in the back of the business of her mother, Dottie Wilson, Infinity Bake Shoppe.

Keeley and her family received a letter in November from the Montana Department of Agriculture, informing her that she was in violation of the law, and she had to obtain a license and register each one of her products. If she didn't, further action would need to be taken, the letter said. The license would cost $100 and the registration was $50 for each product. For her small business, that was an exorbitant amount of money and threatened to close her business.

HB 607 eliminates the cost of the licenses and lowers the regulation of the product to $25 to register 20 products if their business' annual sales is $25,000 or less.

After the signing Bullock asked Keeley if she had any secret recipes or ingredients.

"Lots of stuff," she said with a smile

Bachmeier said after the signing that he was glad that everything worked out and the bill was signed.

"It's really great to have this all wrapped up," Bachmeier said. "It's been a really fun experience working with Keeley and the Department of Agriculture and some other members on the agriculture committee, but it's certainly nice to have it finished up and I'm glad that we can keep Keeley's business going."

Stewart also helps her with the business. At a young age Keeley Wilson was diagnosed as an infant with the developmental disability Williams syndrome, and also has been diagnosed with a wide span of other medical issues such as common variable immune deficiency, narcolepsy and seizures.

Because of Keeley's health issues she cannot work a normal job and her starting her own business with her family allows for someone to be near her at all times in case of an emergency.

Dottie Wilson then started reaching out to people, including Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, who attended Havre High School with Keeley. Bachmeier then began working with the Department of Agriculture to try and create a bill that would  revise the law related to selling and manufacturing pet food, setting small businesses, like Keeley's, in a different category than larger corporations.

Keeley said that the whole experience has been pretty good and it was fun to be able to work with everyone that she did to get the bill passed.

"I just want to say thank you to Jacob," Keeley said.

Stewart said that now that the bill has passed he hopes that his daughter's business will be able to grow a little bit. He added that working with Bachmeier was a positive experience for them and he hopes that now that the bill passed more small businesses like Keeley's will be able come forward.

"It was kind of cool to see how the process should work," Stewart said.

In addition to Keeley Wilson's bill another Havre woman has inspired another bill which would be signed by the governor later today.

With High School graduation right around the corner, Andrea Melle, divorced mother of two adults with autistic spectrum disorders, said that she can rest easier knowing that House Bill 726 passed.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, and co-sponsored by Bachmeier, extends the period of child support obligations for children with disabilities when the custodial parent is the caregiver.

Melle's two children, daughter Kerrie, 22, and son, Drew, 19, both have autism spectrum disorders and require her constant attention. After her son Drew graduates from Havre High School later this year, Melle would lose the child support payments she need to care for her family.

She said that this legislative session she has been more involved than ever before, adding that the experience was overwhelming and very scary but ultimately rewarding. She said that there are a number of families all across the state that struggle with losing their child support after their children with special needs graduates high school. Melle added that many people who are not on this position don't know that there was no law protecting children with special needs.

"I didn't know that it wasn't a law, either, until I was put into this situation," she said.

Melle said that the bill will help a lot of families who are struggling with similar situations to her own.

"It just goes to show that you can't be intimidated by something," she said. "You've got to fight for something that you believe in because you can make changes, you can make changes for the good. ... You can't sit by and let things fly by and think someone else is going to do it, you have to go get it yourself."


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