Boots on the Hill: Halftime (Transmittal Break) Report
By Rachel Cone and Nicole Rolf, Montana Farm Bureau Federation
This week over 200 bills were heard on Monday and Tuesday before the Chambers headed to the floor to wrap up before today’s transmittal deadline. From week one of the session to today, we’ve worked on 52 bills and here is where some of the major bills stand at the transmittal break:
For many Sessions in a row, MFBF has reported on our opposition to several “placarding” bills. Promoted as “Country of Origin Labeling” bills, the legislation would force retailers to post signs indicating where the beef and pork on their shelves was “born, raised, and processed.” It is important to note that many grocery stores, meat shops and other retailers currently market Montana grown beef on their shelves, often at a premium which is something MFBF supports and has advocated for. HB 350 Generally revise country of origin labeling sponsored by Frank Smith (D) HD 31 would require retail establishments to “make an effort” to determine where beef and pork was born, raised and processed. Since MFBF supports enhancing profitability and marketing options for our farmer and rancher members, and because COOL cannot be implemented by a state, we opposed the bill, it was tabled in the House Agriculture Committee on February 2nd.
Those who attended the AFBF Convention witnessed history being made when American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall signed a historic Right to Repair Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) with John Deere. The MOU commits both parties to at least a semi-annual review, holding both sides accountable and agreements with other original equipment manufacturers (OEM) are in the works. Even with this positive movement, two Right to Repair bills were introduced this Session, HB 475 Generally revise laws related to agricultural equipment repair sponsored by Tom France (D) HD 94 and SB 347 Revise right to repair laws relating to agriculture sponsored by Willis Curdy (D) SD 49. MFBF opposed both bills, because our members favor a private market agreement to get us to our goals and the requirements made in these bills go beyond what our members are demanding. Both bills were tabled by their respective agriculture committees on February 28th before the transmittal deadline.
This Session, MFBF has supported two bills regarding the management of grizzly bears, SB 85 Require management of delisted grizzly bears at sustainable levels sponsored by Mike Lang (R) SD 17 and SB 295 Revising laws to accommodate grizzly bear delisting sponsored by Bruce Gillespie (R) SD 9. SB 85, updates Montana law to reflect the proactive way Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is currently managing the species to the extent they are allowed management, given federal oversight. SB 295 amends state law to illustrate the way Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will manage the species after delisting. Both bills passed the Senate and have been transmitted to the House. Also, in early February the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepted Montana’s petition to delist the grizzly bear population and will now being a comprehensive status review of the grizzly bear. In combination with the two Senate bills, Montana is truly one or two steps closer to grizzly bear delisting.
A consistent topic for MFBF this session is water. MFBF participated in the Montana Comprehensive Water Review took place between the 2021 Legislative Session and the 2023 Legislative Session. Through this process two bills, HB 114: Revise timelines for water right permit and change process sponsored by Sue Vinton (R) HD 56 and SB 72: Revise judicial administration of water rights sponsored by Steve Fitzpatrick (R) SD 10 were created and both were supported by MFBF. HB 114 provides more timely and efficient water right permit and change application processes adding sideboards that ensures water users can get through their change or permit in a more streamlined manner. SB 72 creates a one-stop shop to administer water now that final decrees are being issued and protects local knowledge and control by relying on four water division judges who specialize in water law. Both HB 114 and SB 72 have passed their respective chambers and have been transmitted to the other. A recent water bill, HB 642 Revise exempt wells laws sponsored by Casey Knudsen (R) HD 33, was brought and MFBF opposed this bill on the grounds that it gets rid of the “combined appropriation” language and would put Senior Water rights at risk. The combined appropriation guidelines ensure that exempt wells are not able to be “stacked” or consolidated at a level to impact other water users. This bill was heard in the House Natural Resources Committee and was amended to include a fee so it will be eligible for a later transmittal date. MFBF has put together an action alert and we encourage all members to write to House Natural Resources Committee members and the entire House and urge a no vote on HB 642.
For more legislative updates and details on these issues, follow our Live with Your Lobbyist broadcast each Friday at noon on our Montana Farm Bureau Facebook Page.
Nicole Rolf is the Senior Director of Governmental Affairs and a rancher from Miles City, Montana. Nicole works closely with our Congressional delegation on national issues affecting Montana agriculture. Additionally, this is her eighth Montana Legislative Session, lobbying in Helena on behalf of MFBF members. She also works as the Southeastern Montana Regional Manager. Nicole can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rachel Cone is the Director of State Governmental Affairs for Montana Farm Bureau Federation. This is Rachel’s second session lobbying on behalf of Montana Farm Bureau. Rachel is involved throughout the interim session to track how bills will come to the session. Rachel focuses on water issues throughout the legislative session and lobbies on all topics impacting Montana Farm Bureau members. Rachel can be contacted at email@example.com.
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