While the 66th Legislative Session officially adjourned, that doesn’t mean legislators have completely signed off on their duties until January 2021.  During each legislative session, legislators identify issues they want to study in more depth during the interim, the 20 month span of time between legislative sessions.  Legislators use what they learn from the interim studies to make well-informed decisions about what bills to consider during the next session – or at least we hope! 

House and Senate leadership appoints interim committees to conduct these studies, and assignments typically correspond closely with the committees legislators served on during the legislative session.  There are 13 interim committees that hit all the bases, ranging from Education to Transportation.

To see the complete list and to determine if your local legislator has been assigned to a committee, click here

Farm Bureau follows three committees closely during the interim – the Environmental Quality Council (EQC), Revenue Interim Committee (RIC), and Water Policy Interim Committee (WPIC).  Each of the committees develops a work plan that organizes the committees’ priorities to better direct staff time and resources.  While the work plan is subject to change as new issues arise, it’s typically a good indicator of what that committee will spend the next 20 months working on, and quite possibly – what legislation we’ll be seeing in the 67th Legislative Session.  Here’s what you need to know.

Environmental Quality Council 

EQC will devote the largest percentage of their resources to study and discuss chronic wasting disease (CWD), the contagious neurological disease affecting deer, elk and moose.  While there is no strong evidence that CWD can cross species barriers to affect livestock, it’s an issue Farm Bureau follows closely as reports of CWD continue to arise across the state. 

EQC will also be working on two other studies that Farm Bureau will keep tabs on through the interim.  

The first, SJ 20, will study the almost 663,000 acres of designated wilderness study areas in the state.  The 5 year period for review mandated by the Montana Wilderness Study Act expired in 1982, which means these lands have been unmanaged for 40 years.  Farm Bureau will actively participate in the study throughout the interim to voice the need to release the lands locked by Congress. 

The second study, SJ 30, aims to study “issues related to the dissemination of fish and wildlife location data”.  While Farm Bureau didn’t get involved during the legislative session, we will certainly be monitoring the study to ensure private property rights are respected during the conversation.    

Montana statute also gives the Council agency oversight of DEQ, FWP and DNRC.

Water Policy Interim Committee

WPIC voted to spend just short of 50% of their available resources this interim studying the future of the Water Court, HJ 14.  However, discussions amongst the committee point to the study also encompassing the entire water adjudication process.  

The other study the committee will work on during the interim, HJ 40, will dive into the research of weather modification (also known as “cloud seeding”), a technique presumed to enhance precipitation, suppress damaging hail and mitigate fog.  Our members’ policy opposes cloud seeding, so MFBF will be tracking the study and any potential legislation that forms as a result.  However, we’ll also provide members any and all information furnished by the study to ensure our policy is still sound.  

WPIC also has oversight of “issues where the primary concern is the quality or quantity of water” in DEQ, DNRC and FWP.  Multiple WPIC members demonstrated a shared interest in DNRC’s implementation of HB 286, a critical piece of legislation Farm Bureau worked on, so we are pleased to see some form of continued accountability for our water users.  

Revenue Interim Committee
RIC will spend the vast majority of the interim on the study of Montana’s state and local tax systems, HJ 35.  The Legislature has not conducted such a study in many years and the economy, population, and demographics of the state are changing. The study will focus on whether to revise the state’s current tax structure to reflect the current economy, stabilize state revenue, promote long-term economic prosperity, reflect principles of sound tax policy, ensure a fair and equitable tax structure, and allow Montana to compete for jobs and investments.  Farm Bureau supported the bill during the legislative session in hopes that the study would provide, at the very least, awareness of the need for property tax relief.  

Interim committees won’t meet again until September, which means your legislators are back home in their district!  Make sure you invite them to your next County Farm Bureau event; it might just be the perfect opportunity for you to discuss what they’re working on during the interim and how it affects you and your farm or ranch!