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We are at the effective halfway point of the 88th Montana Legislative Session. Transmittal was on Friday 3/3, where all general bills must have passed one chamber to still be viable.

The volume of bills this session was higher than in recent memory, and as we approached the last few weeks before transmittal, the MAP Legislative Committee was in full on triage mode. Overall, the committee evaluated 33 bills, 8 of those were tabled or failed to make transmittal, 3 were drafted but never introduced. That leaves us with 22 bills left to track at the start of the second half of the session which is still a sizable bite to take out of the apple. Most of the action was in the Senate in the first half, and therefor we will be spending most of our time in the House for the remainder session.  

MAP did something this session that we haven’t done in recent memory, we helped draft two pieces of legislation. Both of those pieces of legislation passed the Senate and are on to the House.

SB 170: Allow for administrative minor subdivision process – This bill will expedite and simplify the process for the smallest and least impactful of subdivisions.

SB 382: Revise the Montana Subdivision and Platting Act – Also known as the “big bill” or the “working group bill,” we had a big hand in it’s drafting.

We also supported several bills that simplified the development review process, without compromising local decision making. These bills had 100% success rate in making transmittal.

SB 152: Revise minor subdivision laws – Changes the date in which subdivisions qualify for first minors from 1973 to 2003.

SB 131: Revise exempt subdivision review timelines – puts a timeframe on how long you can take to process exemptions and clarifies that exemptions cannot be conditioned.

SB 130: Allow for a county consolidated land use board – Allows cities and counties to consolidate their land use boards into one board.

HB 211: Revise the local subdivision review process – This was deemed as a “maintenance” bill cleaning up three different sections of statute including how to handle new information in subsequent hearings, when a hearing is needed for phased subdivision final plats, and how to handle variances during expedited review.

One thing we did well so far this session, comparatively to past sessions, is work behind the scenes with the sponsors or our partners to amend bills that had issues. Generally, the strategy here is to take a bill that has issues and get it to a point where we can “live with it” so to speak. We were not always successful in amending a bill to that point. Bills we were able to get amended include:

SB 331: Revise condo and townhouse exemptions – We worked with the Montana Association of Realtors (who was behind the bill) and the Sponsor Senator Greg Hertz to make a minor amendment to the bill that will make administration much easier. The amendments got the bill to a point where we no longer have any concerns.

SB 268: Revise Laws Relating to Short Term Rentals – We worked through one of our partners to make amendments to the notice requirements. The amendments may have not covered all our concerns. We are still digesting the amendments.

SB 301: Revise property laws related to lakeshore regulations – Again, we worked through one of our partners to make amendments. Like SB 268, the amendments may have not covered all our concerns. We are still digesting the amendments.

SB 178: Generally revise cryptocurrency laws – We worked directly with the sponsor Senator Zolnikov to make amendments, and later one of our partners jumped in and made our amendment even better. We no longer have any concerns with this bill.

SB 158: Revise family transfer law – We were able to get a message to the Sponsor, Senator Fitzpatrick, to amend the language so when a family transfer occurs in a platted subdivision, that existing conditions of approval are still applicable. We were not able to get the 5-acre zoning exemption pulled from the bill.

SB 142: Provide oversight of local impact fee laws – We did submit suggested amendments, but I am not sure how influential we were in what played out. Ultimately, the bill was amended to address our concerns although I don’t think MAP can take any credit.

We had some victories getting some bills tabled (usually with a host of partners), and some bills were tabled without our involvement. But some of those bills that were tabled came back to life…

SB 379: Revise zoning laws – The original version of this bill eliminated a county’s ability to have zoning with minimum lot sizes. The Committee played a led role in coordinating opposition testimony which was significant. The original bill was tabled; however, the bill number was brought back to life in the final days before transmittal as a totally different bill.

SB 467: Revise laws regarding local regulation of short-term rentals – This bill failed on Second Reading on the Senate floor. We can’t take any credit for this bill failing to pass the Senate as it came in so late that we didn’t have the capacity to testify on it.

SB 486: Revise subdivision laws related to glamping – Again, we can’t take any credit for this bill being tabled as it came in so late that we didn’t have the capacity to testify on it. In fact, the Committee didn’t even coalesce around a position.

HB 553: Housing for Montana Families Act – We came in hard against this bill, and it was tabled by the House Local Government Committee. However, the bill language popped back up in the Senate in a last-minute amendment to SB 379.

HB 337: Revise municipal zoning laws to prohibit certain minimum lot sizes – Just like HB 553, we came in hard against this bill, and it was tabled by the House Local Government Committee. However, the bill language popped back up in the Senate in a last-minute amendment to SB 379.

HB 606: Revise laws related to home-based businesses – We came in opposed to this bill, but it was really the work of other organizations that lead to it being tabled.

HB 483: Generally revise land survey laws – This bill faced stiff opposition including from us. It would have brought back the Occasional Sale exemption.

HB 369: Require referendum to adopt growth policy – This bill also faced stiff opposition from us as well as planners from across the state.

And finally, there were a couple of bills we were against, but we lost the vote:

SB 379 as amended: Revise zoning laws – We helped killed the original text, but that text was dropped and the bill amended in the days prior to transmittal to include the text from HB 553 and HB 337, as well as some Family Transfer language. The Family Transfer language was dropped on the Senate floor, but the bill passed by 7 votes.

SB 245: Revise municipal zoning to allow multifamily and mixed use development – This is a very poorly written bill. The impacts of this bill have not been thought through. We tried to point some of those impacts out but with no traction. It passed the Senate packed full of problems.

Our top priorities for the second have of the session will be as follows:

Get SB 170 and SB 382 signed into law.

Try and get the 5-acre zoning exception pulled from SB 158.

Work on amending or tabling SB 379 and SB 245.