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Billings chamber leaders talk successes and shortcomings of legislative session

Posted: 5:31 PM, May 02, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-17 14:49:19-04

BILLINGS- Billings Chamber of Commerce leaders are calling the 66th legislative session a success for Billings, with some shortcomings. Lawmakers adjourned sine die April 25 in Helena.

One of the biggest issues affecting Billings was a bill to create impact districts as a way to support the proposed downtown One Big Sky District.

Lawmakers called this measure the 406 Impact District bill, which would have created a funding mechanism for the development of One Big Sky.

Although the bill had bipartisan support from urban and rural areas of the state, it failed on the Senate floor by two votes, said chamber officials Thursday.

But what Billings will gain from is a massive bonding bill which will pour $80 million into economic development and infrastructure projects for Montana, which will benefit Billings.

The bonding bill includes $1.3 million to repair a water line at Makoshika State Park in Glendive. There is also increased funding for trails around Billings.

On top of that, chamber officials praised the passing of $400,000 for improvements at the Moss Mansion.

In terms of public safety, Billings will also benefit from the passing of a pair of human trafficking bills that require massage parlors to have credentials displayed locally and create a two-person human trafficking team at the Department of Justice.

Successes included:

Economic Development

• Passage of bonding bill — the first time in 10 years, also includes $1.3 million for a water line for Makoshika State Park to enhance the visitor experience.
• Renewal of funding for critical economic development programs, including Small Business Development Centers and Montana Manufacturing Center, and others.
• Successfully defended tax increment financing from bills aimed at weakening one of the local governments few funding mechanisms.

Tourism

• Increased funding for trails.
• Increased lodging tax to construct Montana Historical Center and add funding to tourism partners, also includes $400,000 for Moss Mansion.
• Film tax credit bill will incentivize media production companies to film in Montana.

Public Safety

• A pair of human trafficking bills will help reduce the scourge of human trafficking by increasing penalties, requiring massage parlor credentials be displayed, and creating a 2-person human trafficking team at Deptartment of Justice, among many other things.
General Win
• Medicaid Expansion reauthorization ensures almost 10% of our population continues to receive healthcare coverage.

While there is some disappointment concerning the failure of the 406 Impact District bill, Billings chamber officials said there was a lot of interest and engagement that could help propel the issue to the 2021 legislature.