Your Boots on the Hill: 

We’re well into the second half of the Legislative session, and it was another busy week in Helena. At this point, many of the bills we see before committees are bills we’ve previously testified on that are completing the second half of their journey through the legislative process. 

House Bill 110: Revise laws for filing of exempt water right claims
Sponsored by Rep. Brad Hamlett (D) HD 23, Cascade. Heard in Senate Natural Resources Committee Friday, March 10.

Not to be confused with ‘exempt wells,’ House Bill 110 creates a deadline for filing certain water rights claims that were historically exempt for filing, such as stock water and individual domestic uses that utilize instream flow or ground water claims. These were considered exempt from filing until Montana began its water adjudication process. Once the adjudication began, it became clear that to complete an entire adjudication of Montana’s water, all claims would have to be filed on. 

These claims remain exempt from the full water right permitting process, but water right holders are encouraged to file their claims of these rights with the Montana Department of Natural Resources. House Bill 110 sets a June 30, 2019 deadline for those claims to be filed with the Department of Natural Resources & Conservation and requires DNRC provide water users notice of this filing deadline.

Montana Farm Bureau members’ policy supports this legislation, because we want to have ample time and a process in place to ensure our water rights are protected. If a water user chooses not to file they don’t abandon that water right; however, they do become subordinate, or junior, to all other filed rights on that source.

There are fees associated with filing claims on these rights and we are working to ensure the fees remain affordable for water users. Currently, the bill sets fees at $130 per claim with a cap of $960. We’re concerned this fee might become cost prohibitive for water rights holders to file a claim on all their stock water and individual domestic uses that were originally exempt from filing. The fee should not serve as a disincentive to water users to file these claims. There will likely be an amendment to the bill to remove the $960 cap. We’re hopeful we can work to lower the $130/claim cost if the cap on fees is removed. Contact members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee to let them know how these fees would affect your farm or ranch.

This is an important piece of legislation to Montana water users. If you have rights that were exempt from filing, it’s important to be aware of the June 30, 2019 deadline and work to file your claims with DNRC.

Senate Bill 334: Allow permanent registration of heavy trucks, truck-tractors
Sponsored by Sen. Eric Moore (R) SD-19, Miles City.  Heard in Senate Highways and Transportation committee Tuesday, March 14.

This bill would allow 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. This legislation wouldn’t apply to most semi tractors but would allow for slightly smaller farm trucks that meet the criteria to be permanently registered.

Montana Farm Bureau members’ policy supports this bill. We often utilize heavy trucks during specific times of the year, like during harvest when hauling from the field to the bin, hauling silage from field to pit, hay from field to stack, etc. These trucks are usually only used for a few days a year and for very few miles on public roads. Getting them ready for use includes getting them running, cleaned up and licensed. We are obliged to get them licensed, but it would be much more convenient to be able to do so permanently.

House Bill 558: Mitigate tax rates to mitigate reappraisal
Sponsored by Rep. Greg Hertz (R) HD-12, Polson. Heard in House Taxation committee March 10.

Over the current reappraisal cycle, the taxable value of class three (agriculture) and class four (residential and commercial) property has increased by 7.4, 8 and 12 percent, respectively. Taxable value is the financial worth assigned to property by taxing authorities. This figure is then used as a basis against which the tax rate is applied. House Bill 558 mitigates those taxable value increases by reducing the tax rates proportionately.

Montana Farm Bureau members’ policy supports this bill because it will keep the share of property tax levied on agriculture property nearly the same as in previous reappraisal cycles, giving farmers and ranchers a more predictable tax bill, which is important for planning purposes.

Farmers and ranchers are “price takers,” meaning we sell our products for whatever the market price happens to be. We cannot pass additional costs of production on to our customers, and we pay the market price for all of our inputs (feed, fertilizer, seed, machinery, etc.). Therefore, predictable tax bills are very important, so we appreciate mitigation that takes away some of the volatility in our businesses. If this stability would impact your family farm or ranch, contact members of the House Taxation committee to tell them why this is important to you.

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 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 The Montana Farm Bureau Federation is a non-partisan, non-profit, grassroots organization that represents 22,000 member families in Montana.