- Associated Press - Friday, February 6, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A Billings lawmaker proposed Friday that the state require contractors to hire more Montana residents for public works projects.

Democrat Sen. Robyn Driscoll introduced Senate Bill 205 in the Senate Business Labor and Economic Affairs Committee.

Gov. Steve Bullock backs the bill, which would increase the percentage of “bona fide Montana residents” - anyone who can argue Montana is their home - employed on public works projects from 50 percent to 75 percent.

The quota currently applies to private contractor employees on state construction projects. Driscoll’s “Hire Montana First Act” would extend the quota to all public works projects by local municipalities, school districts, political subdivisions, and clean energy projects, as well as to subcontractors.

Cary Hegreberg opposed the bill on behalf of the Montana Contractors Association. He said the resident-worker quota is already unenforced and would be further neglected if it is expanded.

It would be particularly difficult to implement a law requiring 75 percent of subcontractor employees to be Montana residents, Hegreberg said, considering private subcontractors are often brought in from out of state to do highly specialized work.

Former chairman of the committee and two-time President Pro Tem J.D. Lynch said the bill was simply aimed at employing more Montanans.

“We don’t need people from Alabama or Arkan-nothing against the South, but we should hire Montanans above all first,” Lynch said.

Hegreberg said that closing off three-quarters of Montana public works jobs from other states’ residents could spark a trade war with surrounding states, many of which employ Montanans in their own infrastructure projects.

“We oppose this bill purely on the philosophical basis that it’s not good public policy for states to engage in border wars,” Hegreberg said. “Montana seems to be the net loser when that happens.”

Local hire laws have been successfully challenged in multiple states on the basis that they violate the U.S. Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause, Commerce Clause or Equal Protection Clause.

In 1978, seven years before Montana’s 50 percent local hire law was enacted, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hicklin v. Orbeck that the Alaska Hire statute was unconstitutional because the mandate to hire state residents first was applied to private employers.


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