We have about a dozen bills still pending in the final week of Montana’s 65th Legislative Session, but as we review each piece of legislation Montana Farm Bureau members directed our lobbying team on, we’d say this session has been a win for Montana agriculture. This is certainly not an exhaustive list of 67 bills we worked on this session, but it is an overview of each one we tracked in this column over the past four months.
Each of the following eight bills that became law this session was supported by Montana Farm Bureau members. Thanks to the lawmakers who supported these pieces of legislation.
LAW: House Bill 48, Clarify definition of water right change
Sponsored by Rep. Bob Brown (R) HD-13, Thompson Falls.
A “change in appropriation right” does not include a change in water use related to the method of irrigation. This law will allow irrigators to comply with the law when changing from flood to pivot irrigation without going through the complex, time-consuming and bureaucratic change process.
LAW: House Bill 49, Clarify process for updating water right transfers
Sponsored by Rep. Bob Brown (R) HD-13, Thompson Falls.
When a water right is transferred as a part of a realty transaction, the ownership transfer is subject to a DNRC fee and Department of Revenue filing. This law will establish an opportunity for the water user to provide the appropriate paperwork directly to the DNRC to avoid a paperwork pileup.
LAW: House Bill 124, Require education program for water commissioners
Sponsored by Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy (D) HD-42, Crow Agency.
When appointed, water commissioners serve an important role in refereeing and divvying out water in their basin. This law requires appointed water commissioners to complete one educational program through the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) prior to administering water. The DNRC training is already established, and this will be a valuable training for commissioners.
LAW: House Bill 286, Allow livestock loss reimbursement for mountain lion predation
Sponsored by Rep. Ray Shaw, (R)?HD 71, Sheridan.
Mountain lion predation is now on the list of eligible reimbursements through the Livestock Loss Board.
LAW: House Bill 256, Revise legal fence laws
Sponsored by Rep. Casey Knudsen (R) HD 33, Malta.
This law adds criteria to the definition of what constitutes a legal electric fence. The law notes that an electric fence must consist of three tightly-stretched strands of at least 12.5 gauge, high-tensile steel or its equivalent; posts are required to be not more than an average of 50 feet apart over the span of the fence; charged with a standard charger with an output of at least one-half joule and with sufficient energy for the entirety of the fence; regularly maintained by the fence owner.
LAW: Senate Bill 157, Extend milk regulations to hoofed mammals
Sponsored by Sen. Jill Cohenour (D) SD 54, East Helena.
Department of Livestock regulations now include milk produced by any hooved animal. This was needed for public health reasons to clarify that the Department of Livestock does have the authority to inspect and certify both the dairy and cheese making facilities and the products themselves, regardless of the species that produced the milk.
LAW: House Bill 305, Revising laws related to county bounties on predators
Sponsored by Rep. Bill Harris (R) HD 37, Winnett.
Montana law allows for the establishment of a local livestock petition if 51 percent of livestock owners in a county request their county commissioners to implement. This is a self-imposed tax that generates money that stays in the county for predator control. This law allows county commissioners the authority to use that money to set a bounty on predators killed within the county.
LAW: House Bill 342, Revise business laws related to liability and agritourism
Sponsored by Rep. Ross Fitzgerald (R) HD-17, Fairfield.
This law adds a definition of agri-tourism to the list of Montana recreational activities in which participants assume the liability for the inherent risks of those activities. While this law doesn’t remove all liability, it does limit the liability farmers and ranchers might be exposed to based on the inherent risks of participating in a farming or ranching activity. This bill would offer a little more peace of mind to farmers and ranchers who want to “open the barn doors” to tours, activities, ranch visits and more.
NO PARTING TEARS HERE
It’s often been said the best offense is a good defense, and that’s certainly accurate on the death of bad bills. In this list, the first seven bills were topics our members directed us to fight to prevent potentially harmful legislation from getting on the books.
DEAD: House Bill 243, Prohibit outfitting on state lands inaccessible to public access.
Sponsored by Rep. Tom Jacobson (D) HD 21 / Great Falls. Tabled in House Fish, Wildlife & Parks Committee.
This bill would have prohibited the Department of Natural Resources from issuing special use permits to outfitters on isolated state sections. It also would have made it illegal for a landowner who surrounds such a section to allow an outfitter to cross their private property to access that state section, unless they allow the general public to cross their property too. Montana Farm Bureau member policy strongly opposed this bill due to its blatant disregard for private property rights.
DEAD: House Bill 319, Provide process for designating roads as public
Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Essmann, (R) HD-54, Billings. Tabled in House Local Government Committee.
House Bill 319 would have allowed as few as 10 landowners in a county to petition their county commissioners to designate an unidentified road in their county as a public road. The bill then establishes a process of notification and public hearings to determine if the road is public or private. If they received no evidence of it being a private road, they could automatically assume the road is public. Montana Farm Bureau members’ policy opposed this bill. While this bill was intended to apply only to subdivisions, it was written too broadly and would have required many amendments in order to address MFBF’s concerns.
DEAD: House Bill 419, Revise requirements for sale or transfer of wild bison.
Sponsored by Rep. Willis Curdy (D) HD 98, Missoula. Tabled in House Agriculture Committee.
House Bill 419 sought to remove the requirement that bison coming out of Yellowstone National Park and the Designated Surveillance Area (DSA) be certified brucellosis free before they can be sold or transferred to another entity. This bill would allow the moving and transfer of Yellowstone National Park bison before they are declared brucellosis free. Montana Farm Bureau members strongly opposed this bill.
DEAD: Senate Bill 203, Revise laws related to boarding animals
Sponsored by Sen. Nels Swandal (R) SD 30, Wilsall. Missed deadline for general bill transmittal.
Senate Bill 203 would have allowed animals to be seized by law enforcement when an accusation of animal cruelty is made. It required the owner of the seized animals to post a renewable 30-day bond to pay for the care of the animals or the ownership of the animals would have been forfeited to the county, even before a guilty verdict is reached.
DEAD: House Bill 432, Clarify water right not abandoned is conveyance disrupted.
Sponsored by Rep. Brad Hamlett (D) HD 23, Cascade. Tabled in Senate Natural Resources Committee.
This bill would have established that a disruption of a means of conveyance is not intent to abandon a water right. A water right must not be used for 10 consecutive years in order to prove abandonment. HB 432 removes that requirement which makes it extremely difficult to ever properly establish abandonment. The current laws of abandonment sufficiently cover this issue.
DEAD: Senate Bill 247, Prohibiting the outdoor use of neonicotinoid insecticides
Sponsored by Sen. Mike Phillips (D) SD 31, Bozeman. Missed deadline for general bill transmittal.
Senate Bill 247 proposed to ban the use of a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids (neonics) in Montana. Neonics are common and very effective when used to treat seeds. Spring wheat, canola and field peas commonly rely on the use of neonics to control harmful insects.
DEAD: Senate Bill 262, An act prohibiting the restriction of public access on certain roads or rights of way used by the public.
Sponsored by Sen. Eddie McClafferty (D) SD 38, Butte. Tabled in Senate Highways and Transportation Committee.
Senate Bill 262 was a repeat of a bill that was killed in committee during the last session, and thankfully, it met a similar ending this session. This bill would allow any non-designated road or right-of-way that is used by the public and “appears” to meet the conditions of a prescriptive easement or public road to automatically be considered open to the public. It would have shifted the “burden of proof” from the person wishing to use the road on to the person who actually owned the road, essentially requiring the road owner to prove that something they already own is, in fact theirs and not the public’s.
NOT IN THE CARDS THIS YEAR
These were bills that would have been good for Montana agriculture, but for a myriad of reasons didn’t make it through this year. Most came down to the almighty dollar, others will require lawmakers and their constituents to put on their thinking caps over the next two years to find even better solutions to the issues these were meant to address.
DEAD: House Bill 96, Revise free elk license/permit for landowner providing free public elk hunting.
Sponsored by Rep. Zach Brown (D) HD-63, Bozeman. Failed vote on the House floor.
This bill would have provided free elk licenses to landowners who allow public hunting.
DEAD: House Bill 204, Generally revise laws related to maintenance of fishing access sites
Sponsored by Rep. Alan Redfield (R) HD 59, Livingston. Tabled in House Fish, Wildlife & Parks Committee.
This bill would have required all water “vessels” in Montana to purchase a fishing access site maintenance decal for $25. $10 of the fee would have gone toward noxious weed control and $5 toward the prevention of aquatic invasive species, with the balance paying toward fishing access site management.
DEAD: Senate Bill 327, Reduce the Montana business equipment tax
Sponsored by Sen. Roger Webb (R) SD-23, Billings. Missed deadline for revenue bill transmittal.
This bill would have increase the class eight business equipment tax exemption levels. Currently, the first $100,000 of market value class eight property of a person or business entity is exempt from taxation. This bill would have amended that to $350,000, while providing for a reimbursement to local governments for the missed tax dollars.
DEAD: Senate Bill 334, Allow permanent registration of heavy trucks, truck-tractors
Sponsored by Sen. Eric Moore (R) SD-19, Miles City. Tabled in Senate Highways and Transportation.
This bill would have allowed for the permanent registration of heavy trucks that are 11 years or older, with a registered gross vehicle weight of less than 55,000 pounds and a manufacturer’s rated capacity of more than one ton.
DEAD: House Bill 631, Provide student loan forgiveness for beginning farmers
Sponsored by Rep. Zach Brown (D) HD 63, Bozeman. Motion failed on Senate floor.
House Bill 631 would have allowed the Grow Through Agriculture (GTA) Development Council to initially direct $50,000 toward helping young and beginning farmers and ranchers pay off student loan debt.
Chelcie Cargill is Montana Farm Bureau Federation’s Director of State Affairs and a fifth-generation rancher from Melville, Montana. Chelcie can be contacted at (406) 930-2299 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Nicole Rolf is the Director of National Affairs and also a rancher from Miles City, Montana. Nicole can be contacted at (406) 951-2429 or email@example.com. The Montana Farm Bureau Federation is a non-partisan, non-profit, grassroots organization that represents 22,000 member families in Montana.