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Update from Helena
A newly crafted workers’ compensation bill cleared a legislative hurdle Wednesday, but not without criticism from opponents who said it was unfair to employees and undermined a bill much longer in the making.
House Bill 334 by Rep. Scott Reichner, R-Bigfork is one of two major proposals for workers’ compensation reform working its way through the Legislature. Montana is ranked as having the worst workers’ compensation rates in the country and paid nearly $400 million in workers’ compensation rates last year, officials said. Lawmakers say while on the campaign trail they consistently hear from business owners that the high rates are keeping them from expanding their business, paying employees better or forcing them to move out of state.
The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service has announced that state-wide the January 1, snowpack is 12 percent above average and 46 percent greater than January 1, 2010. State-wide mountain snowpack was above average and well above last year. January 1 represents about 45 percent of the expected seasonal snowfall, so more than half of the snowfall season remains. November and December precipitation has led to January 1 snowpack to be above average and streamflow prospects for the spring and summer to be near average.
Mountain snow water content state-wide was 112 percent of average and 146 percent of last year. West of the Continental Divide mountain snow water content was 106 percent of average and 142 percent of last year. East of the Continental Divide mountain snow water content was 112 percent of average and 139 percent of last year.
As the legislature considers repealing Montana’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), a study by the American Tradition Institute and the Montana Policy Institute says that the state’s alternative energy mandates will be costly to citizens. The RPS is the criteria by which state government permits Montana utility providers, as they purchase energy and enter into production contracts.
As the economy emerges from the worst recession since the 1930s, the damage is apparent: diminished personal income, uncertain housing markets, high unemployment rates, permanent closures in key industrial facilities and budget pressures on state and local government. As the country grows impatient, where is Montana in the recovery process and where do we stand in rebalancing the economy?
Patrick Barkey, director of The University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, will discuss what has already happened – and what still needs to happen – to bring growth back into balance at the 36th annual Economic Outlook Seminar titled “Paying for the Recession – Rebalancing Montana’s Economy.”
The Montana Policy Institute has launched a new website (www.opengovmt.org) that allows visitors to see the salaries and benefits of state employees.
The new open government website is separated into two areas and will allow people to view both state employee salary information and detailed budget data on Montana's K-12 school system.
"Transparency is an issue that unites both left and right, and MPI is happy to be on the cutting edge of bringing detailed information to Montana residents about how their money is being spent," said MPI President Carl Graham. "Publication of this information on our new website continues in the MPI tradition to promote government transparency and accountability."
The Open Government initiative follows publication this winter of the "Montana Pork Report: Wasted Treasure in the Treasure State," a collaboration between the Montana Policy Institute and Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW). That publication outlined wasteful spending and proposed cuts in state spending.
Because state officials have refused to release actual compensation figures for public employees, the information provided at opengovtmt.org only provides a snapshot in time, but one that can be used to compare and contrast public compensation levels across the state.
"In time, we believe the state must be more forthcoming and provide specific spending information to the public," Graham said. "In the meantime, we are happy to provide the limited information state officials have decided to released and will continue to be a leading advocate for truly transparent state government."
Montana Policy Institute
Montana will become the first state in the nation to prohibit illegal aliens from collecting workers’ compensation if a bill introduced in the 2011 state Legislature is passed into law, according to an official from the National Employment Law Project.
Bozeman Republican House Member, Gordon Vance, said the idea for the legislation, House Bill 71, comes from his experience with the workers’ compensation issue when he was on a committee that examined the costs of the program. Despite rates that have been declining over the past five years, Montana has the most expensive workers’ compensation rates among all states.
The Big Sky Business Journal
P.O. Box 3262
Billings, MT 59103