Boots on the Hill: State Legislation for Right to Repair Begins and Exempt Wells Introduced at the Last Minute
By Rachel Cone and Nicole Rolf, Montana Farm Bureau Federation
The transmittal deadline is right around the corner and the Legislature is working hard to wrap up any general bills remaining before the March 3 deadline. We advocated on over a dozen bills this week, but Right to Repair and exempt water wells legislation were the most critical to our members.
On January 8, 2023 the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with John Deere to ensure farmers’ and ranchers’ right to repair their own farm equipment. This MOU is the product of several years of discussion between AFBF and John Deere and serves as the first what we believe will be agreements with multiple original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). On Tuesday, SB 347 Revise right to repair laws relating to agriculture sponsored by Willis Curdy (D) SD 49 and HB 475 Generally revise laws related to agricultural equipment repair sponsored by Tom France (D) HD 94 were heard by their respective agriculture committees. HB 475’s language is specific to the pricing of tools and information that can be shared by OEMs while SB 347’s language closely resembles the AFBF and John Deere MOU, but adds troubling language regarding embedded software. So why oppose state legislation similar to Farm Bureau’s MOU? Our opposition is based on our members’ preference to pursue a free market solution instead of state or federal legislation. Our members support and believe that a private-sector agreement between farmers, ranchers and OEMs is the best approach and legislation is not needed at this time. There is also a concern if states across the country start passing their own right-to-repair legislation it would create a patchwork of legislation that is difficult to navigate for OEMs and farmers alike. The MOU is not intended to serve as a “template” for state or federal legislation but is a negotiated document between members of Farm Bureau and an individual company and we believe more agreements like the AFBF, John Deere MOU are coming soon.
This week, HB 642 Revise exempt wells laws sponsored by Casey Knudsen (R) HD 33 was introduced at the last minute before the transmittal deadline and looks to revise exceptions to water right permit requirements. We, along with many of the stakeholders that participated in the Comprehensive Water Review and other organizations, adamantly oppose HB 642 as introduced because it significantly expands the exemption so municipalities, large-scale industrial and large-scale commercial users will be able to pump more water without any consideration to the harm it causes to existing water users. Exempt water users do not have to go through the normal permitting process which means there is no opportunity for water users to challenge new water uses if there are implications to their water rights. Exempt wells cannot be challenged or revoked, even if there are negative impacts to other water users. HB 642 also allows the development of at least 10 acre-feet per 20 acres, or enough water to cover every 10 acres 2 feet deep, every year. This could "stack" multiple exemptions together and will result in a massive increase of water usage with no sideboards to protect agriculture’s senior water rights. As this bill was introduced at the last minute, it must be voted on rapidly and the time is short for you to contact your legislator to protect your senior water rights. Montana Farm Bureau is in strong support for collaborative efforts to solve such complex issues. The Comprehensive Water Review process is the best place to do this and create solutions similar to the work that went into other water issues we have seen this session.
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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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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