2019 Legislative Session
The 66th session of the Montana Legislature ended on April 25, 2019. Throughout the session, the MLHA closely monitored bills that affect the lodging, hospitality and tourism industry. At the end of the session we were monitoring 52 total bills as well as 105 bills that did not end up being introduced. Scroll down for the highlights and outcomes of the main bills we worked during the 2019 session.
Interim Session Study
SJ 24: Interim study of lodging facility use tax
SJ 24 is a Joint Resolution of the Senate and House requesting an interim study on the revenues and distributions of the 4% lodging facility use tax with a report to be developed for the 2021 Legislative Session. This study resolution, which was ultimately selected, was one of nearly 100 that legislators were considering.
MLHA is already participating in the effort and educating the legislature on the importance and uses of the state’s tourism dollars.
The Economic Affairs Interim Committee held their first meeting in early June. The committee is composed of a group of general tourism supporters and they have been charged with studying SJ 24 between now and the next session. They will meet about 7 to 8 times. MLHA was in attendance to let them know we stand ready to provide assistance with SJ 24, that will look at the 4% bed tax. MLHA walked them through the history of the 4% bed tax, how it’s worked and what it’s done to our economy. We stressed that the formula has been sucessful, asked that they be cautious in considering changes and to please include the private industry in their deliberations.
Economic Affairs Interim Committee Work Plan
This plan includes references to SJ 24 on pages 10, 15 and 20-21.
General SJ 24 Information Sheet
Montana Museum Act
SB 338: Provide for Construction of the Montana Heritage Center and Create Museum Grants - passed
MLHA worked with other history and tourism supporters to pass SB 338, the Montana Museum Act of 2020, during the session. MLHA’s reasons for supporting the bill are numerous:
First, the bill is seen as providing new funding and unlimited opportunities to enhance our rural museums and historic sites across the state for years to come. Specifically, the local museum grants of nearly $3 million a year in SB 338 will work to improve historic infrastructure and restore fatigued treasures throughout Montana. As a result, MLHA and others believe visitors will be attracted to the sites - staying longer and spending more money in rural communities. The bill begins with grants of $400,000 to the Daly Mansion in Hamilton and to the Moss Museum in Billings in 2020. Additionally, SB 338 provides the funding over a five-year period to renovate and construct the Heritage Center Museum in the Capital City.
MLHA is also pleased that the bill sponsors and legislative leaders took input and adopted key provision in SB 338 as requested by our association leadership. For example, SB 338 does the following:
HB 293: Provide for film tax credits - Passed
The MLHA was a key supporter of this legislation. MLHA advocated that film productions bring more tourism dollars into the state and provides free advertising for Montana to generate more visitors. In order to be competitive with other states we need incentives as called for in HB 293.
HB 329: Provide funding for local emergency services by diverting bed tax - Failed
The MLHA testified as a lead opponent to this bill. It called for diverting $14 million of the 4% bed tax to county governments for emergency service programs. It was tabled unanimously in the House Local Government Committee.
HB 365: Use portion of bed tax for agritourism grants - Failed
This bill was looking to take $500,000 from the 4% bed tax to fund agritourism. MLHA testified against this bill and it was tabled in the House Taxation Committee.
HB 411: Revise laws related to AIS expenditures and funding – Passed with Amendments
The MLHA opposed HB 411 as amended by the House. The version of the bill adopted by the House would have diverted 4.4% of the bed currently going to the Department of Commerce tourism division to the state invasive species program. MLHA strongly opposed, as this redirection of funding would have taken $1.5 million in marketing dollars away from tourism programs at the Department of Commerce.
MLHA opposed HB 411 in the Senate Natural Resources Committee and the bill was amended to increase the funding for the AIS program on the portion paid by hydro utility companies, AND to reduce the amount of bed tax funding from approximately $1.5 million a year to $500,000. The amended bill has passed the House and Senate and is headed to the Governor’s desk.
HB 661: Revise aviation fuel taxation – Passed with Amendments
This bill intended to increase the aviation fuel tax on carriers from $.04 to $.14. Proponents were the smaller airports that would benefit from the funds generated. Opponents, including MLHA, were the large airlines that feared losing commercial carrier flights and increasing airline ticket costs that could affect Montanans as well as tourists. It ultimately passed the House but was modified in the Senate to decrease the airline tax to $.05 and the commercial fuel aviation $.02/gallon rebate was removed; so effective rate increase ultimately is $.03.
SB 147: Revising laws concerning human trafficking and sex crimes to protect victims – Passed
MLHA supported this bill that aims to crack down on “illicit massage parlors” in an effort to expand trafficking investigations. It has passed both the Senate and the House and is on its way to the final preparation process.
SB 332: Revise taxes on sale or use of accommodations – Tabled in Committee
The MLHA pursued this bill that would have required online platform companies (like Airbnb) to collect/remit Bed Taxes. During the hearing in the Senate Tax Committee, MLHA had the opportunity to raise concerns and educate lawmakers about the failure of online companies to collect bed taxes.
Opponents to the bill talked about their uneasiness with the required audit procedures and privacy issues. Following the hearing, both proponents and opponents developed amendments for the Senate Tax Committee to consider in Executive Session. MLHA leaders became concerned with the language proposed in the amendments we learned the committee was inclined to adopt and felt they could have unintended consequences that hindered the Department of Revenue in enforcing current bed tax laws. As a result, MLHA leaders decided it was best to ask the bill sponsor and committee members to table the bill for this session. The Senate Tax Committee concurred with our request and tabled SB 332.
In the interim, MLHA plans to work on non-legislative solutions as well as a revised bill for consideration in future legislative sessions.