This week marked the first full week of committee hearings after the transmittal break.  For the remainder of the legislative session the brunt of our work will focus on making sure bills we support continue to make it through the process.  The exception to this rule is any bill which is considered a revenue bill.  Any legislation with money attached to it has a later transmittal deadline of approximately April 1.  While the volume of new bills certainly decreases after the initial transmittal deadline, we are keeping our eyes peeled for anything new that will require input from the agriculture industry.

Several bills we worked on in the first half of the session continued their journey through the legislative process this week. 

HB 229, carried by Rep. Brad Hamlett, clarifies that dinosaur bones or fossils found on private land are a part of the surface estate. Farm Bureau supports this bill and the protections it implements for private landowners. It passed the House, as amended, and had no opponents during the Senate hearing. The Senate Natural Resources Committee took Executive Action the same day and passed the bill unanimously out of committee.

SB 133 had a hearing in House Agriculture on March 14.  Carried by Sen. Bruce Gillespie, SB 133 would require that before an individual is eligible to receive predator reimbursement grants from the Livestock Loss Board the Department of Revenue must certify they have paid the previous year’s per capita fee.

Heard in Senate Agriculture on March 14, HB 520 proposes to increase funding to the Livestock Loss Board (LLB) by $100,000.00 per year.  Currently, the LLB has a budget of $200,000 and with the addition of mountain lions to the list of qualified predators that amount of money is no longer meeting their needs.

Sponsored by Rep. Greg Hertz (R), HD 12, Polson

In response to the positive detections of zebra and quagga mussels in 2016, the 2017 Legislature passed multiple measures aimed at the prevention of aquatic invasive species (AIS) in Montana.  One piece of legislation permitted counties located within the Columbia River basin to adopt ordinances and resolutions regarding the prevention or control of invasive species within their county.  Some counties have utilized this new statute to operate their own inspection station to ensure boats traveling in and out of the county’s water bodies are AIS-free.  Current law, however, does not provide the ability to enforce such ordinances.  

HB 402 provides these counties enforceability by making violations of local invasive species ordinances a misdemeanor.  Any negligent violation is punishable by a fine not to exceed $500 for the first offense and $750 for any subsequent offenses.  The offense of knowingly violating an ordinance is punishable by a fine not to exceed $975.  In addition, the person forfeits their current fishing license and the privilege to fish for a period of time set by the court and any current sticker or decal required to operate a vessel on the waters of Montana.  

Montana Farm Bureau recognizes the incalculable need to prevent AIS from entering Montana’s water bodies, so we have no problem with the enforcement measures provided in HB 402.  However, the bill also allows counties across the state to impose a mill levy for the purpose of managing and suppressing “invertebrate pests” – aka – aquatic invasive species.  Currently, law allows for counties to levy taxes on agricultural, horticultural, grazing and timber lands for the purpose of managing vertebrate pests, such as prairie dogs.  HB 402 expands that statute to include invertebrate pests and the ability to levy taxes on “lakefront, riverfront, and lake-influenced lands”.  However, the bill doesn’t distinguish the two categories of property that pay for the two different kinds of pests.  Likewise, residential and commercial property are left out of the funding equation.  So were HB 402 to pass, counties could levy an additional tax on agricultural and grazing land for AIS prevention.  This is a nonstarter for MFBF.  

Montana has yet to solidify a statewide funding mechanism for the AIS program.  Simply throwing darts at a wall and hoping something sticks is not the correct approach to this funding dilemma.  Montana Farm Bureau opposes HB 402 and will work hard to ensure this proposed funding mechanism doesn’t “stick”.

SB 317, Revise transportation weight limits and permits

Sponsored by Sen. Mike Lang, SD 17, Malta

When the ground beneath a highway’s pavement freezes, the road can handle more weight.  States such as Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin implement regional load increase advisories, which allow truckers to haul heavier shipments than typically allowed.  Following suit, this bill would create a wintertime and durational 10% overweight permit in the state of Montana.  The wintertime permit is valid for 30 days, while the durational permit is valid for the period between December 1 and March 7.

We see this very much as a common-sense measure.  If the roads can withstand more weight in these wintertime months, the law should allow for the increased-efficiency of larger loads.