In addition to legislative work, a group of Farm Bureau leaders spent three days in Helena working on their advocacy and leadership skills. ACE is Montana Farm Bureau’s premiere leadership and advocacy program open to a small group of individuals who want to improve their ability to lead and influence, not only as a Farm Bureau member but within their local communities and our industry as a whole. The timing was great for them to hear from experts on rural economic development in Montana and changing political trends and demographics; two topics that are extremely crucial to helping Montana Farm Bureau shape positive policy decisions for agriculture.

This week brought the transmittal deadline for all revenue and appropriations bills. Committees were up against the clock to schedule hearings, take executive action and send these bills to the House Appropriations committee.  At this late juncture, it also means quite a few bills are tabled or never scheduled for a hearing if they were introduced late in the process.  Here are a few updates on new legislation we worked on this week.

SB 341 Allowing public access land agreements

Sponsored by Sen. Mark Blasdel (R) SD 4, Kalispell

Our state’s population is growing and as a result more and more of those people want to enjoy the beauty and natural resources our home offers; access to public and private land is a hot topic. As the original stewards and conservationists of Montana’s private lands, farmers and ranchers are proud of the job they do to preserve those views and natural resources. However, the growing interest in access to both public and private lands has often pitted landowner against hunter or recreationalist.  

SB 341 aims to help alleviate some of those pressures by establishing a public lands access agreement that a private landowner may enter into voluntarily. Allowing public access either to or through private lands often comes at a cost to a landowner. That cost may be in the maintenance of roads and other infrastructure, the landowner’s time managing public access or a straight monetary loss due to damaged property or trespass. 

Through SB 341, a landowner may negotiate the terms of a public land access agreement with the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks if they provide access through their private property to public lands. Landowners may be directly compensated up to $15,000 annually for allowing access. They may also negotiate other terms including improvements to the land that may benefit and help guide access (think parking lots or walk-through gates), the seasonality or timing of access, weed control and the location and transportation mode used.

Additionally, the Private Lands Public Wildlife advisory committee, which includes landowner representation, reviews the access agreements and may make recommendations to FWP. Public access to or across private lands should never be assumed or forced. MFBF supports the voluntary attributes and negotiation tools SB 341 provides landowners.  

Currently in Montana there are nearly 663,000 thousand acres that sit in limbo awaiting a decision on whether or not they meet the federal requirements for a wilderness designation.  Under the Montana Wilderness Study Act, acres recommended for a wilderness designation should be reviewed within five years by the Secretary of Agriculture.  The five-year review period expired in 1982 and these Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) still sit without a final decision.

During the 2017 legislation session HJ 9, a resolution carried by Rep. Kerry White asked Montana’s congressional delegation to pursue the release of those WSAs.  HJ 9 passed the legislature and as a result, Sen. Steve Daines introduced S. 2206, Protect Public Use of Public Lands Act.  The legislation hit a road block during the 2018 Congress and SJ 20 is a response to that.

To continue encouraging both statewide and federal conversations about the recommendation and designation of WSAs, SJ 20 asks the State to take on an interim study of WSAs in Montana.  This committee would study the history and policy behind WSAs, provide a forum for stakeholders to offer input and ideas and ultimately formulate recommendations for our Congressional Delegation.  MFBF supported SJ 20.

HB 707, Revise capital gains tax credit

Sponsored by Rep. Kim Abbott (D), HD 83, Helena

Under current law, taxpayers are allowed a credit against any imposed income taxes in an amount equal to 2% of the taxpayer’s net capital gains.  HB 707 would limit the credit’s availability to taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of less than $1 million.  We opposed the bill as it would negatively affect Montana’s farmers and ranchers who likely have capital gains, but limited net income.  While their gross income may hit $1 million or more, their net income rarely reflects that.  HB 707 could prevent these individuals from being able to use their capital gains income at the end of the year.

HB 707 was heard in the House Taxation Committee on March 25, and was tabled on March 26.  We’re thankful so many legislators recognized the issues and concerns this piece of legislation raised.