Placarding Bill Returns, Funding Conservation Districts and Addressing the Montana Ballot Initiative Process.
By Rachel Cone and Nicole Rolf, Montana Farm Bureau Federation
This week we wrapped up the first month of the 68th Montana Legislature and rolled into February without skipping a beat. February in the Montana legislature started strong with hearings on what has been labeled the “Country-of-Origin Placarding” (COOP) Act, bills that would increase Montana’s conversation districts’ funding and update and modernize the Montana ballot initiative process.
Just like in the 66th and 67th Montanan legislature, a bill has been introduced that claims to implement “Country of Origin Labeling” (COOL) in Montana. Presented in slightly different forms in both the House and Senate during the past two legislative sessions, this session’s 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. If the store determines the meats were born, raised and processed in the United States, they may place a “born, raised and processed” placard or sign on the meat case. If they cannot determine this information, they would put up signage that indicates the meat is to have a “Imported/Origin Unlabeled” placard. This places a difficult burden on retailers because many of them purchase boxed beef from USDA-inspected or state-inspected plants. This notes where the meat was safely and wholesomely processed but does not indicate where the animal lived its entire life. Even though USDA/ERS data shows that only about 8.1% of the US beef production is sourced from foreign-born cattle, stores would likely be forced to place a “Imported/Unknown” label on. This would drive consumers away from beef and pork on the Montana store shelves. Instead, MFBF supports the use of existing marketing programs such as the Made in Montana Program which markets Montana-made products and services both in and out of state. Many Montana retail establishments currently market Montana-grown beef and pork, as do many local processors. Even better, many Montana ranchers market direct to consumers, selling beef that was born, raised and processed right here in the state. The bottom line is, many marketing channels already exist for labeling our high-quality products. We should allow consumers to make their own food choices, and not use state government to enforce unreasonable and counterproductive regulations on private businesses.
This week also saw HB 321 Generally revise laws related to the coal trust sponsored by Linda Reksten (R) HD 12 heard by the House Taxation Committee to re-outline how coal trust fund money is spent and send 65% of that fund to conservation districts. MFBF supports this bill because of the critical work conservation districts do for the people of Montana such as administering the 310 permits, water quality projects, conservation education and more. Lewis & Clark Conservation District supervisor and Lewis & Clark County Farm Bureau president, Karl Christians, testified to the House Taxation Committee over the value conservation districts bring rural and urban communities and why increased funding is important for the betterment of the environment.
This past summer, MFBF was heavily involved in two ballot initiatives and participated in coalitions of stakeholders to defeat these harmful initiatives. During this process, we learned the Montana ballot process needs updates and modernizations. In response to that, we worked to develop SB 93 Generally revising ballot issues Mike Cuffe (R) SD 1. This bill outlines and fixes these issues. While this bill covers many topics regarding the ballot issue the two main topics MFBF supports is requiring the proponents of the ballot initiative idea to fulfill reporting requirements and that there should be a full analysis and review of both constitutional and statutory ballot initiatives. Both kinds of initiatives cost the state resources and implementing this bill ensures those resources are well spent. MFBF along with the Montana Chamber of Commerce and other key coalition partners spent the past year researching and developing “common sense rules” language for ballot reform in preparation for SB 93. You can read the coalition partners and suggested ballot measures here.
Last week we shared that longtime friend and member of Montana Farm Bureau, Christy Clark, was confirmed on Thursday, January 26, by the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee to serve as Director for the Department of Agriculture (DOA). This Wednesday, her confirmation passed the Senate floor, officially appointing Clark as the Director of the Montana Department of Agriculture. "I’ve known Christy as a friend and colleague for over 25 years,” said MFBF President Cyndi Johnson. “She understands production agriculture, market challenges, rural business development and competitive barriers on a personal level. Christy brings that advantage to her position as the head of the Department of Agriculture (DOA).” You can read more about Director Clark’s appointment here.
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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