In the first week back in Helena after transmittal break, the bills are flying through committees in the second chamber. There were 181 bill hearings this week, which means our citizen legislature is moving quickly to accomplish the people’s business. Here’s where our focus for Montana’s farmers and ranchers’ business landed this week:
Senate Bill 306: Revise Structure of Fish and Game Commission, sponsored by Sen. Mike Lang (R), SD 17. Montana Farm Bureau member policy supports.
Senate Bill 306 proposes expanding the Montana Fish and Game Commission from five commissioners to seven, dictating that the seven commissioner seats would coordinate with the seven established hunting districts in the state. More importantly to our farming and ranching members, this bill would require at least four of the seven commissions be landowners engaged in production agriculture.
The Commission serves an advisory capacity to the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The commission has an almost surprising amount of authority for its advisory role; members approve or disapprove public access land agreements, set hunting numbers and population objectives, approve property acquisition and more. These Governor-appointed commissioners make decisions that have serious impacts on the state’s farmers and ranchers. It’s only reasonable that the majority of the seats are filled with landowners directly engaged in production agriculture.
We supported this bill at the end of the week before transmittal, where it passed out of the Senate Fish and Game Committee and then skated across the Senate floor. This week, we testified in favor of the bill in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee.
We also saw a handful of the Governor’s tax bills make their way across the second chambers this week, including House Bill 252: Non-refundable tax credit for employer-paid education of trade professions, sponsored by Rep. Llew Jones (R), HD 18. This bill has only gotten better as it’s made its way through the system, with amendments that added even more trade professions who could take advantage of the tax credits for trades education and training expenses. Welders, mechanics, electricians, and many more, now including logging and lumbering, trucking, and water well drillers, are all critical trades for our rural communities and our ranching businesses.
Senate Bill 159: Personal Income Tax Relief Act, sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz (R), SD6 offers a simple reduction in income tax on any taxable income in excess of $18,700. This might be viewed as ‘phase 1’ of the Governor’s tax relief plan.
Senate Bill 182: Generally revises laws on state finance, reducing tax rate if conditions met, sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz (R), SD 6, represents the more complex ‘Phase 2’ of the Governor’s tax plan This intricate bill has considerable foresight and planning to provide income tax relief in the long term, based on the state’s fiscal health. In simplest terms, the bill sets up a mechanism to reduce income taxes when state revenue reaches certain thresholds. Bob Story, Montana Taxpayers Association’s Executive Director, shared a memorable quote in this testimony in favor of this bill, noting that ‘when the citizens pay their taxes, they don’t tell the state the keep the change.’ This bill returns the change over time by reducing the income tax as certain benchmarks are hit, all while maintaining a sound budget, which we can all agree is a good thing for hard-working Montanans.
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 seventh Montana Legislative Session, lobbying in Helena on behalf of MFBF members. She also works as the Eastern Montana Regional Manager. Nicole can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rachel Cone is the Director of State Affairs for Montana Farm Bureau Federation. This is Rachel’s first session lobbying on behalf of Montana Farm Bureau. Rachel is involved throughout the interim session to track how bills will come to the session. She also coordinates the MFBF Water Committee, the Resource Management, Environment and Technology Committee and the Livestock Committee in addition to being the Treasurer for the Farm Bureau PAC. Rachel can be contacted at email@example.com.
Farmer, rancher representation needed on Fish and Game Commission
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