It doesn’t appear the legislature will meet their goal of concluding by Good Friday.  With a few big ticket items still being negotiated, like Medicaid expansion, legislators will report for duty April 23rd after a short Easter recess. 

There are a number of bills still pending. These are bills that Montana Farm Bureau members have passed policy on at their local, county meetings and have been handed up to the state policy book for us to pursue. We don’t lobby on a bill unless we have explicit, member-written policy that directs us to do so.

Included in that tally is HB 286, the state lands bill.  After passing third reading in the House of Representatives on a landslide vote of 91-9, this bill is awaiting its turn across the Governor’s desk.  You’ll recall this legislation clarifies that the state may only obtain an ownership interest in a water right or ground water development works if a court determines the state is an owner of that right or if the state is in possession of a deed transferring ownership of the water right to the state.

Solidifying HB 286 in state law is a positive step for the protection of property and water rights in Montana.  While we anxiously await a signature from Governor Bullock, it’s important to thank the legislators, especially bill sponsor Representative Alan Redfield of Livingston, for their work in passing HB 286 and protecting Montana agriculture. 

In the meantime, there are many Farm Bureau supported bills that have passed both houses and are finishing the enrolling process; this is a final check to ensure the bill is presented to the Governor exactly as the legislature voted and intended.  

PENDING: SB 133, Revise eligibility requirements for livestock loss mitigation payments 

Sponsored by Sen. Bruce Gillespie (R) SD 9, Ethridge 

SB 133 would require a livestock owner has paid the previous years’ per capita fee to the Department of Livestock before they are eligible to receive any payments from the Livestock Loss Board. Per capita fees are per-head fees assessed on all livestock. “Livestock” includes bees, poultry, sheep, swine, beef cattle, dairy cattle, horses and mules, domestic bison, domestic ungulates and ratites. 

Livestock owners are responsible for self-reporting and fees are collected annually through the Department of Revenue. Per capita dollars are a critical piece of the Department of Livestock’s overall budget.  Fees support programs that monitor animal health, manage predators, monitor and restrict livestock imports and more. The Department also uses this funding source to administer programs that prevent the spread of animal diseases to humans. 

SB 133 was amended to clarify that, except for a tribal member or entities that are not subject to Per Capita reporting, a livestock producer may not receive a reimbursement payment until any delinquent Per Capita fees are paid. 

PENDING: HB 505, Require notice to shared water conveyance facilities

Sponsored by Rep. Walt Sales (R) HD 69, Manhattan

This bill requires an individual applying for a water right or a change in appropriation right to provide notice to other water users on a shared conveyance facility, such as a canal, ditch, flume, pipeline, or other constructed waterway.  Were HB 505 to pass, applications for a permit or change in appropriation right would not be “correct and complete” until the applicant had submitted proof to DNRC that a written notice of the application was provided to each owner of an appropriation right that shares the point of diversion or means of conveyance. Farm Bureau supported this provision as we feel it simply adds transparency to the application process.  If a change or permit has the potential to adversely affect your neighbor’s appropriation, they should at the very least be aware of the application.

PENDING: HB 497, Allowing additional antlerless elk to be harvested 

Sponsored by Rep. Wylie Galt (R), HD 30, Martinsdale

HB 497 proposes allowing one additional elk tag for hunters.  Hunters would be able to utilize all tags during either the general or applicable shoulder season hunts.  MFBF supported this bill because the only way to control population growth is through the effective hunting of elk.  If landowners can take more elk off their private property and hunters can fill their freezers and potentially support neighbors or community food banks, it’s a win-win.

PENDING: 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.