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Outsourcing workers’ compensation debated at legislature

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The pace of legislation is speeding up as bills clear committees and hit the floor.

My Business, Labor and Economic Affairs committee passed the “growler bill” making it legal to bring your glass growler to a local brewery and take home a fresh half-gallon of brew. It’s a real grass- or better, hops-root bill that favors local business, like Glacier Brewing of Polson.

More serious business followed with debate on bidding out the Work Comp Old Fund to a private insurance administrator. It is our hope that outsourcing will cut administration cost.

Speaking of Work Comp: Montana’s work comp rates are highest in the country. Just over the border in North Dakota they enjoy the lowest. North Dakotans are now making Montana jokes all the way to their banks. We Montanan’s don’t think it’s funny and your legislators are making progress on lowering our Work Comp costs.

Pension passions are coming to the fore – teachers’ and public employees’ retirement funds are facing the possibility of insolvency. We are accumulating data from several sources, and there are a couple of remedies under consideration. We voted in committee to increase the pension for volunteer firefighters; their fund is in the black; and added an incentive for these folks to work additional years for additional benefits; similar to the Social Security model.

In Transportation committee we heard testimony on banning cell phone use while driving. No doubt there will be some amendments, such as permitting hands-free use and permitting emergency and commercial drivers to use cell phones. Because urban areas are addressing this locally, and some of us are anticipating federal bans, I am not inclined to vote for statewide regulation. I feel it would be hard to enforce. I think good judgment would preclude distractions.

In state administration, we are passing bills that eliminate some obsolete state advisory boards; and are considering bills adding oversight to rulemaking. You probably can sense the theme running through this Legislature that we want to make it easier to do business in Montana.

A more philosophical bill passed our committee that will double the number of signatures required to get an initiative on the ballot to amend Montana’s Constitution. I voted against it. I sensed it could leave Montanans feeling powerless, and I think that leads to apathy - our biggest enemy of democracy.

We passed SB 117, the “coordination” bill” after lively debate. Briefly, it allows counties and other forms of local government more of a place at the table on land management issues when federal restrictions are proposed.

We were honored Thursday by Chief of the Blackfeet Nation Willie Sharp to deliver the State of the Indian Nation speech. Our native legislators observed the event wearing ceremonial headdresses, and the spirit of Montana’s native heritage filled the chamber. In contrast to the Governor’s rip-snorting speech last week, Mr. Sharp’s tone was gracious and emphasized common goals and challenges. He pointed out economic successes in Indian Country, and acknowledged a spirit of cooperation.

Keep your cards, calls and emails coming. I value your input.

Carmine Mowbray, P.O. Box 200500, Helena, MT 59620,
(406) 444-4795

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