Elinor Smith

HELENA (KPAX) -- The Senate is considering a bill that would ban local governments from requiring businesses in their city or county to offer benefits like healthcare, paid time off and disability. 

The bill builds off of legislation passed in 2021 that restricted cities or counties from establishing minimum wage and compensation requirements above state or federal wage laws. 

This session, Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings, is sponsoring Senate Bill 177. Proponents of the bill say such decisions should be left to the state as a whole. 

Brad Griffin is the president of the Montana Retail Association, the Montana Restaurant Association and a proponent of the bill. He says for chains that spread across the state, any varying regulations would make it difficult for employers and business owners to keep track of what benefits each employee is entitled to. 

“They like to have uniformity from one community to the next. So that's what this is all about,” Griffin said. 

Last session’s Senate Bill 301 dealt with mandates on “benefits” and SB 177 would define those benefits, including things like vacation time, sick leave, payments in cases of accidental death or dismemberment, retirement, healthcare and disability benefits.

While there were no opponents at the hearing for the bill on Wednesday, last session’s bill faced opposition from some lawmakers on grounds that it limits local control. Sen. Christopher Pope, D-Bozeman, was one of the lawmakers who opposed SB 301 last session.

“There's a tendency for the state trying to, you know, constrain local governments and to limit their choices. But, you know, these elected officials at the local level work so hard, that we need to give them as many tools for their toolkit as possible,” Pope said.   

The committee did not take immediate action on the bill Wednesday. 

Elinor Smith is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.