With last week’s transmittal deadline marking the half-way point of the 66th Montana Legislature, it’s only fitting that we provide an update on the first half of the session.  By and large, agriculture has fared well during the uphill stretch.   

Legislation Signed Into Law 

Two pieces of legislation that Montana Farm Bureau supported have already received the Governor’s signature and become law, while four other good bills are expected to make an appearance on the second floor this week.  

Law: HB 63, Remove sunset date to extend financial liability for pesticide applicators 

Sponsored by Rep. Ray Shaw (R) HD 71, Sheridan 

HB 63 removed a sunset date in current law to extend the Department of Agriculture’s rule-making authority to set and enforce the financial responsibility requirements of commercial pesticide applicators.  The sunset was put in place during the 2017 Legislative Session to encourage the Department and stakeholders to find a new, acceptable solution for all involved parties before that deadline. Montana Farm Bureau members’ policy supports requiring liability insurance in lieu of the outdated bond requirement.  We provided ample input to the Department on our position throughout the interim and are confident the final rule proposed by the Department will address our concerns. 

Law: HB 104, Free prerequisite licenses for block management cooperators

Sponsored by Rep. Denley Loge (R) HD 14, Saint Regis 

Prior to the passage of HB 104, a landowner who participates in the block management program is given a combination sports license free of charge. This provides a little extra incentive for landowners to participate in Block Management.  HB 104 simply added the inclusion of “necessary prerequisites” which are 1) the base hunting license, 2) an aquatic invasive species prevention pass and 3) a wildlife conservation license to make the package complete. Not initially including these prerequisites was probably an oversight, so adding them to current law was an appropriate step this session. 

Dead Bills 

Halting the movement of bills detrimental to agriculture is equally as important - if not more important - than ensuring ag-friendly legislation makes it past the finish line.  We’re pleased to report that all fourteen of the bills Montana Farm Bureau opposed were tabled in their respective committees and declared dead after missing the transmittal deadline on March 2. 

The two bills (SB 97 & HB 271) aimed at stopping the construction of the TransCanada/XL Pipeline both died in committee, and HB 452, which would have expanded state agency oversight of heritage properties onto private lands, lived a very short life. Sen. Mike Phillips’ attempt to ban coyote derbies across the state proved unsuccessful, just as his bill to halt hunting and trapping of wolves near Yellowstone did.  

Still in Motion 

Even as some bills are nearing the end of their Legislative process, others still have to progress through the opposite chamber, and the potential for new bills just coming to life remains.  Though the general bill transmittal deadline has passed, bills with associated revenue appropriations have a later deadline of April 1.  Montana Farm Bureau is working diligently to track new bills as they are scheduled and to monitor bills farther along in the process to ensure no unfavorable amendments are made.  

Here are two bills with Farm Bureau support that still need to pass the finish line: 

HB 520, Revise funding for livestock loss board

Sponsored by Rep. Ray Shaw (R) HD 71, Sheridan 

HB 520 would allocate an additional $100,000 from the general fund to the livestock loss reduction and mitigation state special revenue account each year.  The livestock loss program provides financial reimbursements to producers for losses caused by wolves, grizzly bears or mountain lions.  The program was established in recognition of the economic hardship caused by wildlife management decisions livestock producers have no control over but bear the burden of. 

The program’s budget has remained stagnant at $200,000 since its inception in 2007 when only losses due to wolf predation were eligible.  Since then, both grizzly bears and mountain lions have been added to the list of eligible predators, but with no additional funding allocation. Consequently, the Livestock Loss Board has come to a point where they receive more applications than they can grant reimbursements for.  The increase in funding that HB 520 provides is both incredibly needed and long overdue. 

HB 520 passed the House with bipartisan support and was transmitted to the Senate on February 28. 

SB 176, Allow for establishment of certified hemp plan and program & SB 177, Revise Montana hemp laws

Sponsored by Sen. Tom Jacobson (D) SD 11, Great Falls 

Montana led the nation in hemp production under the Department of Agriculture’s pilot program last year.  It’s important that Montana remain competitive amidst the new provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill which removed hemp from the list of controlled substances.  We see passage of SB 176 and 177 as an important first step toward that endeavor. 

Now that the crop is federally recognized as an agricultural commodity, some of the Department’s oversight measures, like fingerprinting growers, are no longer needed.  SB 177 would modify state law to reflect hemp’s new status by removing unnecessary requirements.  SB 176 would establish a certified plan and program to regulate and market hemp in Montana.  The bill also allows for growers to form a commodity advisory committee to assist in research, promotion, and market development.  

The Montana Farm Bureau supported both of these bills, which are scheduled to be heard in the House Agriculture Committee on March 21.