HELENA — At the start of the Montana Legislature’s 68th session, Gov. Greg Gianforte said one of his top priorities was reforming state regulations that he believes are burdensome and outdated. On Thursday, he held a ceremonial signing for ten bills that are part of that effort.
“Together, we're making government more efficient and responsive,” Gianforte said. “Together, we're opening the doors of greater opportunity that have been shut by red tape.”
Gianforte was joined at the State Capitol ceremony by Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras, who headed up an advisory council overseeing the “Red Tape Relief” initiative. Also on hand were more than a dozen lawmakers and several state agency administrators, as well as a number of business leaders who said the changes would improve Montana’s business climate.
“We believe that these are important foundational steps to give us – the state of Montana – an economy that we actually deserve,” said Montana Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Todd O’Hair.
The governor’s office has identified 188 bills that are part of the Red Tape Relief effort – sponsored by 84 different lawmakers. Gianforte has already signed more than 100 of them into law.
Many of the bills, including the ten highlighted on Thursday, have passed with broad, bipartisan – and occasionally even unanimous – support. The changes have included eliminating inactive commissions, streamlining applications for state contracts and modernizing rules for issuing public notices.
Other bills have been much larger in scale – like House Bill 152, sponsored by Rep. Bill Mercer, R-Billings, which Gianforte called a “keystone” of the Red Tape Relief initiative. The bill was originally more than 200 pages and extensively revised the state’s occupational licensing rules. It was almost completely rewritten through amendments in the House and now includes just two pages dealing with licensing rules for military members and spouses.
Gianforte said Thursday that it’s important for HB 152 to move forward and he’s hopeful it will continue to make progress before the end of the session.
Juras said the effort to reform state regulations isn’t going to end when the Legislature wraps up its work for the year.
“This has been a marathon, not a sprint, and it will continue,” she said. “We're not done yet. As soon as the legislators go home – soon – we're going to, with the agencies and stakeholders, prepare for our second round, because there's still some red tape out there that needs cutting.”
The ten bills Gianforte signed during Thursday’s ceremony were:
· House Bill 26, sponsored by Rep. George Nikolakakos, R-Great Falls, which repeals several regulations dealing with trucking and agricultural hauling.
· House Bill 34, sponsored by Rep. Steve Gist, R-Great Falls, which exempts certain Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation grants from an environmental review process that Gianforte said was “duplicative” in these cases.
· House Bill 117, sponsored by Rep. Marta Bertoglio, R-Montana City, which makes it easier for retired teachers to return to the classroom as substitutes.
· House Bill 143, sponsored by Rep. Julie Dooling, R-Helena, which reduces the size of the state’s Tourism Advisory Council.
· House Bill 159, sponsored by Rep. Josh Kassmier, R-Fort Benton, which eliminates the “Livestock Crimestoppers Commission,” which recommended rewards for information used to combat livestock-related crimes – a commission Gianforte said had not met in years.
· House Bill 232, sponsored by Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, which simplifies the process for the state to enter into new leases for the purpose of consolidating state office space.
· House Bill 266, sponsored by Rep. Tony Brockman, R-Kalispell, which eliminates the state advisory council on concealed weapon permits – another board Gianforte said was inactive for roughly a decade.
· House Bill 459, sponsored by Rep. Gary Parry, R-Colstrip, which makes it easier for property owners to claim an assistance program if their land is valued disproportionately high compared to their home.
· Senate Bill 43, sponsored by Sen. Willis Curdy, D-Missoula, which allows the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to post official notice for timber sales on its website, instead of requiring it be in a newspaper.
· Senate Bill 57, sponsored by Sen. Theresa Manzella, D-Hamilton, which gives more flexibility in how the state awards Montana Department of Transportation contracts.