Montana Legislature – Bills to Watch Impacting Tech and Entrepreneurship

The Montana Capitol in Helena. Photo by Mike Albans/MTPR.

By Christina Henderson

Montana’s biennial legislative session is underway. While the Alliance does not typically take positions on legislative issues, we do share with our members proposed legislation that could significantly impact tech and entrepreneurship in the state. In the last few weeks, member companies have reached out to make us aware of relevant issues coming up in the Legislature. Here’s what’s on our radar so far:

Drone/Unmanned Aerial Vehicle(UAV) Laws – LC3000, LC2949, LC2196

Montana legislators submitted draft bill requests regarding drone law revisions in December, and while draft language is not currently available, industry representatives anticipate these bills will be similar to some proposed in the 2017 session and attempt to regulate UAVs by banning them over private property, critical infrastructure, and airports.

Advocates from Montana’s UAV industry point to existing federal drone regulations and a statement from the Federal Aviation Administration on federal vs. local drone authority which states, “State and local governments are not permitted to regulate any type of aircraft operations, such as flight paths or altitudes, or the navigable airspace. . . Cities and municipalities are not permitted to have their own rules or regulations governing the operation of aircraft.”

Industry insiders believe that not only are state regulations banning drones overreaching and possibly illegal, they also can be perceived as stymieing innovation and making UAV businesses feel unwelcome in Montana. Those wishing to limit drone use most often cite privacy and safety concerns, but legal drone operators point out that it is possible for the Legislature to enact reasonable and enforceable rules that would both protect citizens and support investment and innovation in Montana’s drone industry.

Neighboring states (most notably North Dakota and Idaho) are actively working to enact UAV-friendly policies in a bid to increase investment and have crafted legislation that protects both privacy and industry growth. Montana’s legislature appears to be hesitant about drone technology and more inclined to regulate the industry. UAV technology, proponents say, is here to stay and will continue to be a fast-growing sector for jobs and economic impact, and Montana’s wide-open spaces and low population density make it a great state for UAV innovation.

 

Requiring Monitoring Software for Government Tech Contractors – HB 197

House Bill 197 is a proposed piece of State legislation going for a hearing on January 30: “An act revising laws related to public agency contracting for services performed on a computer; requiring a contractor to use software capable of data collection to verify work performed; providing for retention of and access to the data records; providing rulemaking authority; and providing an applicability date.”

While the bill seeks to ensure timeliness and accountability for work performed under State contracts, members who perform technology services for the State of Montana are concerned that such policies could introduce potential security risks with sensitive data captured in screen shots.

Beyond security concerns, tech contractors say data from screen shots, keystrokes, and mouse movement are not necessarily measures of productivity and progress in complex knowledge work such as writing and debugging code.

Requiring tracking software could also undermine the trust between the government and private tech contractors that is essential to a positive business climate. Opponents of the bill suggest that if there is a known problem with some contractors abusing a partnership with the State, specific incidents could be addressed directly rather than subjecting all contractors to burdensome and invasive monitoring requirements.

How Companies can Stay Informed and Take Action

The Montana Chamber of Commerce offers a number of resources for those interested in better understanding the legislative process and ensuring their voice is heard on proposed bills that may affect their businesses.

If you would like to connect with other Alliance members who are concerned about legislative issues or make us aware of other bills impacting tech and entrepreneurship this session, please email Christina at director@mthightech.org.


About the Author: Christina Quick Henderson is Executive Director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance and adjunct professor of entrepreneurship, management and organizational behavior in the College of Business at the University of Montana.

About the Publisher: Launched in 2014, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance is an nonpartisan nonprofit association of more than 350 high tech and manufacturing companies and affiliates creating high-paying jobs in Montana. For more information, visit MTHighTech.org or subscribe to our biweekly newsletter.

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