Friday, May 14, 2021

Gianforte signs bills sponsored by local lawmakers

The Western News | April 27, 2021 7:00 AM

With just days left in the state legislative session, a series of bills sponsored by Lincoln County representatives received Gov. Greg Gianforte’s signature.

The newly-enacted laws aim to improve school bus safety, provide a property tax exemption for certain forms of affordable housing and extend the license plate renewal period for disabled veterans.

After learning that the state had taxed Kootenai Senior Center, a nonprofit in Troy, for the affordable housing it offers, state Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Libby) sponsored House Bill 432. The act provides a property tax exemption for affordable housing owned by a 501(c)(3) and constructed using federal grants.

Compared to the other bills he’s worked on, Gunderson said this one was an easy pass.

“It had an easy trek through the system,” he said during a March interview. “It doesn’t take a lot to explain it.”

Gianforte signed the bill on April 19. It goes into effect for tax years beginning after December 31.

Revising school bus safety laws was one of the cornerstones of state Rep. Neil Duram’s (R-Eureka) reelection campaign last year. In September, Duram said he hoped to restrict bus stops on roads with four lanes of traffic and give more authority to school boards over where bus drivers are required to turn on their stopping lights and extend their stop arms.

Duram was able to accomplish some of these objectives with House Bill 207, an act that would revise laws related to school bus lighting. Signed into law by Gianforte on April 19, the new law gives school districts the option to install additional lights on buses.

Previously, buses were allowed to have four amber signals meant to be used while preparing to stop and an alternatively flashing lighting system of four red signal lamps meant to be used while stopped.

Speaking during a March 11 Senate Highways and Transportation Committee meeting, Bob Gilbert, Montana School Bus Contractors Association, described the bill as an enabling act.

“It’s a good bill … I heartily recommend it,” said Gilbert.

The bill went into effect immediately. Duram said the Montana Board of Public Education would have to approve the changes.

House Bill 267, another bill sponsored by Duram, would further revise traffic and safety laws concerning school buses. The Senate Highways and Transportation Committee concurred on amendments to the bill on April 15.

Gianforte also gave his approval on April 19 to Gunderson’s House Bill 482, an act that Gunderson described as a small gesture that recognizes combat-injured veterans. While Montana residents are required to change their license plates every 5 years, the new law pushes back this requirement to 10 years for veterans with combat-related injuries.

Laurie Bakri, Montana Vehicle Division administrator, said during a March 18 Senate Highways and Transportation Committee meeting that the state did not have a classification for combat-related disabilities. Because of this, there may be a delay in the law’s implementation.