The tide is about to turn in relation to bill volume as we enter the second month of the 2021 Montana Legislative Session. In the first week in February, only 550 of the 3,337 bill draft titles were introduced. It’s likely that many of the bill draft requests will never actually see the light of day, but that still leaves the large majority yet to be possibly introduced. By next week, we’ll have a clearer picture of what may or may not actually come to fruition from this session.
We continue to focus on escorting House Bill 14, the Long-Range Building Bonding Program, through the funding process. This appropriations bill handles important funding provisions for a new Veterinary Diagnostics Lab in Montana, plus funding for the Montana Wool Lab and some Montana Agriculture Experiment Station facility upgrades. This week, Montana farmers, ranchers and their organizations made an impressive showing in the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Long-Range Planning to support the Montana Veterinary Diagnostic Lab (MVDL).
While lobbyists like us are in Helena full-time to represent you, nothing makes a statement quite like a farmer or rancher taking their own time to speak to legislators about the impacts of their decisions. Montana Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer and Rancher Committee Chair and Beaverhead County rancher JM Peck testified to this committee on the value a Veterinary Diagnostics Lab could provide in disease testing for animal and public health.
“As a cattle rancher, I understand the importance of timely and accurate testing of veterinary lab samples to ensure the health and safety of our herds and food supply,” Peck told the committee. “I live near the DSA (Designated Surveillance Area), and diagnostic testing is something we require and rely on on a regular basis. A new, state-of-the-art lab will ensure we continue to uphold standards of quality and safety for years to come.”
As more bills reach critical decision points, there will be more opportunity for Farm Bureau members like you to testify and make an impact on these decisions that affect your livelihoods. Voting Farm Bureau members receive Action Alert email updates when issues most need your voices.
In the meantime, here’s a rundown of a few of the other bills we testified on this week:
House Bill 93, Expand materials certified under noxious weed seed free program, sponsored by Rep. Kenneth Walsh (R), HD71. Montana Farm Bureau member policy supports.
The Department of Agriculture specifically requested this bill in response to constituent demands for expanded noxious weed seed free certification. Currently, noxious weed seed free certification is focused on forages. House Bill 93 notes that, “to the extent there is a need for standards and good practices for other material to prevent the spread of noxious weeds, seeds and other invasive organism, the department may create options for proof of compliance in a cost-effective manner to protect the state and to provide options for businesses.”
This bill would allow the Department of Agriculture to create certification standards for weed seed-free gravel pits, for example. As land stewards who want to rid our state of harmful noxious weeds, this expanded certification potential could help reduce the spread as well as open up new marketing opportunities for certified weed seed free products.
House Bill 261, Constitutional amendment for taxpayer protection act to limit tax types, sponsored by Rep. Derek Skees (R), HD 11. Montana Farm Bureau member policy opposes.
This request for a constitutional amendment proposes prohibiting any taxes other than an income tax, a property tax, and a general statewide sales tax, providing that only two of the three allowable tax types may be imposed at the same time. This limitation is concerning because it would hinder our ability to provide substantial property tax relief by developing another sort of tax to offset either property or income tax.
Our economy has evolved over the years with more e-commerce competing against our traditional brick-and-mortar or main street businesses, shifting more property tax to fewer businesses. It seems this trend will continue unless the legislature intervenes. Farms and ranches feel the pressure of higher property taxes directly. Limiting the types of taxes the state can levy, as this bill will do, will hinder or prevent our ability to broaden the future tax base. Farm Bureau asked the House Judiciary Committee to oppose HB 261 so that this referendum would not tie the hands of future Legislatures when they seek to adapt and improve our tax system by broadening the tax base to reduce property tax.
Senate Bill 136: Clarify criteria for permits and water right changes, sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick (R), SD 10. Montana Farm Bureau member policy supports.
This is a straightforward bill to clear up language around water right permitting. Today, statute notes identification of “existing legal demands,” which opens various interpretations of how that demand may be quantified. SB 136 clarifies that the legal availability analysis for a permit and/or a change in water right is determined only by the water right, which is defined as the quantity of water available. The legislative intent behind this existing statue was to have the Department of Natural Resources permit water based solely on existing water quantity, and this bill rightly clarifies that intent.
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.
Ranchers show strong support for Veterinary Diagnostic Lab funding
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