Dear MSSA Friends,

SB 122 is MSSA’s bill to encourage the manufacture of ammunition components (brass, primers and powder) in Montana, carried for MSSA by Senator Matt Rosendale.  The introduced version of SB 122 contained three elements to encourage such manufacture:

1)  Liability protection.  Current Montana law contains defectless product liability for manufactures of finished ammo.  SB 122 extends that protection to component manufacturers.

2)  Economic development programs.  Current Montana law has quite a number of existing economic development programs that do various things to encourage new business in Montana.  SB 122 grants access to ALL existing economic development programs to new manufacturers of ammo components.

3)  Tax relief.  The introduced version offered a LOT of tax breaks to new component manufacturers.

Some have expressed concern that the Senate "gutted" SB 122.  Not true.  Here’s what happened.

The Senate Taxation Committee wrestled with SB 122.  All Democrats on the Committee opposed SB 122 (hey, that’s what they do), led by Senator Sue Malek (D-Missoula) and Senator Dick Barrett (D-Missoula).  Some Senate Republicans have had a problem with this bill in previous years.  What they say is that they want to reduce taxes on business generally, and that they oppose any special tax breaks for certain industries as complicating the job of getting across-the-board tax reduction done.  This is a plausible explanation, but it could also be a smokescreen for an anti-gun vote.

There are seven Republicans on Senate Tax, and five Democrats.  Four of the Republicans on Senate Tax are among those moderates who describe themselves as "responsible Republicans", ones who will vote with Democrats when it suits them to get something they want or to kill a bill they don’t like.  The three staunch Republicans on Senate Tax tried to get Senate Tax to support SB 122 as introduced, but could not corral the votes required for that, especially with all five Democrats already locked up against it.

So, the staunch Republicans on Senate Tax had to compromise with the "responsible Republicans" on amendments that the "responsible Republicans" would tolerate, to get SB 122 out of the Committee.  Otherwise SB 122 would have died right there.

In the amended version that passed the Committee (7-5, party line vote), about 60% of the tax breaks were removed, but the liability protection and access to economic development programs were left intact.

SB 122 passed the Senate in this form, 28-22 on Second Reading and 29-19 on Third Reading.  In this Third Reading vote, Democrats Hamlett, Moe, and Sands voted yes, two Republicans were excused, and Republican Tutvedt voted against.  Otherwise it was a party line vote.  SB 122 went to the House, and was assigned to the House Taxation Committee.

We had considered asking the House Tax Committee to restore the original language and tax breaks.  However, the Senate sponsor persuaded me that such a restored bill would stall in the Senate upon return there for Senate concurrence with House amendments.  Sponsor Rosendale is also the Senate Majority Leader.  I trust him to know what he can get past the Senate, so we did not ask House Tax to restore the missing tax breaks from the original version of SB 122.

If House Tax had restored the tax breaks stricken in Senate Tax, only four Senate Republicans would have had to vote against the restored House version to kill the bill.  There are seven of the "responsible Republicans" in the Senate, plus a couple or three other Republicans who can be quirky.  We can’t count on any Democrat votes on our bills.  The R/D split in the Senate is 29-21.  Given all of that, I couldn’t see going against the advice of the Sponsor to ask House Tax to restore the tax breaks taken out by the Senate Tax Committee.

House Tax made one small, technical amendment to the bill, just to clean up an erroneous date in the bill, but otherwise passed the amended Senate version by 13-7 (hey, we even got some Democrats).

So, the current status of SB 122 is not "gutted", although I’d agree it is weakened.  In its current form, we get 2 1/2 steps forward rather than the 3 steps we wanted.  Still, it’s moving the ball in the right direction.

SB 122 will be on the floor of the full House soon for Second Reading.  I’ll let you know when it’s time to ask House members to support the bill.  Assuming SB 122 passes the House on Second and Third Readings (likely, I think, in its current form), then it will return to the Senate for Senate concurrence with the minor, technical amendment made by the House.  Barring any wildcards being played in the hand, I expect Senate concurrence with the minor House amendment will be nearly automatic, and SB 122 will then go to the Governor for his signature.  This is the one of our bills that I think the Governor will be likely to sign (although I’m not betting any money).

Stay tuned …

Gary Marbut, President
Montana Shooting Sports Association
Author, Gun Laws of Montana

By mssa