This past week a few of our more contentious issues began to surface. In our Business and Labor committee we heard three bills that attempt to settle the conflicts between the craft breweries and the taverns.

Montana liquor law is very complicated and breweries are not allowed to hold a liquor license.

A coalition formed after last session that included tavern owners, brewers, distributors, along with some agency people and fringe folks like restaurant owners and gaming license holders. The coalition crafted a comprehensive bill, but the distributors left the group and created their own solution. The breweries are one of the fastest-growing industries in Montana, but tare he taverns think that breweries are looking a lot like bars.

Taverns often pay a large amount of money for their license and believe breweries should have to pay more for a license. Brewery licenses are far more restrictive than taverns, but are also far cheaper. The challenge is to find a way to allow breweries to expand and yet protect the limited licenses the taverns must purchase. I will report more on that once we have passed one or more of the bills.

The House passed a couple of tax reform bills. One bill reduces income tax and another reduces property taxes. Even though the bills passed the House floor they have a long ways to go. The Senate Tax committee will hear them, and then they have to be approved by the Senate and the Finance and Claims committee and finally will go to the governor’s desk.

I only point this out because I am hopeful that we will see tax reduction, but we have to balance the state’s budget and the estimated amount of money coming into the state at this point is a moving target. The price of oil has dropped which decreases our state’s income, but with lower gas prices folks have more money in their pockets and are spending more so we are seeing increase in other tax revenues.

It’s really a lot like making sausage. We won’t know for sure how it looks until it comes closer to the end.

Finally, the medical reform bills will be introduced and heard in next couple of weeks. I understand there will be three bills. Gov. Steve Bullock toured the hospital in Choteau last week, and fortunately I was excused from the Legislature to join him. The Healthy Montana Plan is the governor’s healthcare reform bill, but I understand there are two other healthcare reform bills still being drafted. I am confident that we will find a made in Montana bill that resolves the crisis facing rural hospitals.

I am grateful for the emails and for those of you who took time to meet with Governor Bullock and for those who have taken time to visit with me. Feel free to contact me anytime, christy_clark@ymail.com.