With only two weeks until the 2017 Montana Legislative transmittal deadline, the pace at the Capitol in Helena is quickening. By the week of Feb. 27, all bills that are going to continue to have life and a shot at making it into law must have passed through their initial committee and house process.

Some bills we’ve been following have already failed or flourished. House Bill 96, which would have allowed for a free elk license for landowners who provide free public elk hunting, died on the House floor on Feb. 7.

Sponsored by Rep. Casey Knudsen (R) HD 33 / Malta. Heard in House Agriculture Committee Tuesday, Jan. 24.

You may recall that House Bill 256 proposed to add criteria to the definition of what constitutes a legal electric fence. We reported on this bill earlier and noted that Montana Farm Bureau lobbyists requested a few amendments regarding the spacing of posts. The sponsor heard our request and amended the bill to read that posts are required to be an average of 50 feet apart over the span of the fence.

There were a few additional amendments and the bill was passed out of the House Agriculture committee. It sailed through the House on a vote of 99 to 1 and has been referred to the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation committee. No hearing date has been scheduled yet.

Sponsored by Sen. Mike Lang (R) SD 17, Malta. Heard in Senate Agriculture, Livestock & Irrigation Committee Thursday, Feb. 9.

Senate Bill 155 would prohibit local government from regulating agricultural seeds. It protects farmers and ranchers from a potential patchwork of regulation, and creates consistency between Montana’s state seed and fertilizer laws. This bill is a proactive, positive measure that protects property rights, provides consistency and helps preserve and protect our ag industry.

Montana Farm Bureau members’ policy firmly supports this measure for a number of reasons. Property ownership in Montana often spans county lines. This bill would prohibit counties from creating a patchwork of regulations that may be burdensome and cost prohibitive to agriculturists. It also protects property rights, leaving it to the choice of the farmer and rancher to make the best business decisions for themselves and their resources.

Fertilizer is already regulated at the state level and it makes sense for seeds to be as well. Consistency in seed and fertilizer laws creates efficiencies for agri-businesses and avoids added burden and confusion for farmers and ranchers.

We would encourage farmers and ranchers to contact members of the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee this week and urge them to vote yes on Senate Bill 155.

Sponsored by Rep. Becky Beard (R) HD-80/ Elliston. Heard in House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Tuesday, Feb. 7

Agriculture groups and individual ranchers in areas facing severe livestock depredation supported House Bill 367 this week. It creates the ability for individuals purchasing conservation licenses or combination licenses to voluntarily pay an extra $1 or more to be deposited into a state special revenue account

The department would then use the money collected to contract for wolf management with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, including but not limited to flight time, collaring, and lethal control of wolves. The use of these funds would be in addition to any funding paid by the USDA Wildlife Services.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Essmann, (R) HD-54, Billings. Heard in House Local Government Committee on Thursday, Feb. 9.

This was a bill presented to solve some specific issues involving unidentified roads within subdivisions, but as written, the potential impact reaches further than intended.

As initially written, House Bill 319 would allow as few as 10 landowners in a county to petition their county commissioners to designate an unidentified road in their county as a public road. The bill then establishes a process of notification and public hearings to determine if the road is public or private. If they received no evidence of it being a private road, they could automatically assume the road is public.

Montana Farm Bureau members’ policy opposed this bill as originally written, based on the automatic assumption that unidentified roads are public. While this may make sense in a subdivision, it is worrisome and unnecessary to put the burden of proof on a farmer or rancher to potentially have to prove all their private roads to be private.

The bill sponsor did present amendments in his opening to clarify this only applies to subdivisions, and an amendment that made it explicitly clear this law would only apply to roads within subdivisions and in no way can it apply to any portion of the road outside of a subdivision.  The sponsor’s amendments addressed all of our concerns with the original bill. With these amendments in place, the bill no longer has a direct impact on farmers and ranchers outside of subdivisions. With that, Farm Bureau member policy would no longer have a stance on the bill as long as the sponsor’s amendments are added to the bill. If the committee adds the sponsors amendments during executive action on the bill, Montana Farm Bureau’s opposition will be withdrawn.

Chelcie Cargill is Montana Farm Bureau Federation’s Director of State Affairs and a fifth-generation rancher from Melville, Montana. Chelcie can be contacted at (406) 587-3153 or chelciec@mfbf.org. Nicole is the Director of National Affairs and also a rancher from Miles City, Montana. Nicole can be contacted at (406) 951-2429 or nicoler@mfbf.orgThe Montana Farm Bureau Federation is a non-partisan, non-profit, grassroots organization that represents 22,000 member families in Montana.