The 65th Montana Legislature convened last week in Helena. While the session is still in its infancy, committees are beginning to meet and legislators are introducing their first bills of the term. We’ve hit the ground running.

If you read our last column, you’re already familiar with these important Legislative committees. This is where issues surface and begin the legislative process. Here are some key agriculture issues that were introduced in committee this week.

Senate Bill 28: Allow Water Court review of certain DNRC decisions

Sponsored by Sen. Chas Vincent (R) SD-1 / Libby. Heard in Senate Judiciary committee, Wednesday, Jan. 4

This bill would allow the Montana Water Court to review certain decisions of the Montana Department of Natural Resources (DNRC). Currently in Montana, if a water right holder wishes to apply for a water right or make a change to an existing water right, they complete the process by going through the DNRC. If they aren’t satisfied with the final decision reached by the DNRC, they have the option of appealing the decision to their District Court.

SB 28 provides water right holders the option to appeal a DNRC decision directly to the Montana Water Court instead of the District Court.

Montana Farm Bureau members’ policy supports this bill. Our members feel the water court has the expertise in Montana water law to more effectively handle these appeals. District Judges often have no water law experience at all, and according a survey of District Judges conducted by the Montana Supreme Court, a majority of District Judges would like the ability to refer water right appeals directly to the Water Court.

Opponents to the bill raised concerns regarding the original purpose of the Water Court.  The Water Court was created nearly 40 years ago solely to handle the adjudication of Montana water. The adjudication process is nearly a decade from completion, and many feel this bill will unnecessarily burden the Water Court with more responsibility. This, potentially, may further delay the adjudication process.

We also support the timely and efficient adjudication of Montana water. While Montana Farm Bureau supports SB 28, this is not a concern we take lightly. There should be careful consideration to ensure the adjudication process is still the primary priority for the Montana Water Court.

House Bill 126: Generally revise the Montana Pesticides Act.

Sponsored by Rep. Ray Shaw (R) HD-71 / Sheridan. Heard in House Agriculture Committee, Thursday, Jan. 4.

The intent of this bill is to revise the fees on certain pesticide applicator and dealer licenses, among other things. We recognize the Department’s need to adjust fees; costs have increased and the Department needs to be able to meet those costs in order to deliver the training and services needed by pesticide applicators and dealers. This bill also looks to adjust the proof-of-liability statute that applies to commercial applicators.

It’s a big bill, and after yesterday’s hearing, it’s likely there will be several amendments to it before it leaves the committee. Stay tuned as more details are worked out.

As always, you can get more details on any bill we mention in this column by visiting, then navigate to the LAWS database and do a search by bill number.

We’re here every day throughout the session, lobbying on our members’ behalf. Still, we hear consistently from legislators: YOUR voices matter the most in their decision making.

This process is important. Montana Farm Bureau has three opportunities for our members to get involved. These events include training on the legislative process, face time with your elected officials and agencies, and time to take in and participate in committee hearings. Take a day or two away from the farm or ranch to join us in Helena:

Visit for more information. In the meantime, we’re here to be our members’ resource, and our priority is to connect you and your grassroots policies to the lawmakers who impact our livelihoods. Call or email any time to learn more.

Chelcie Cargill is Montana Farm Bureau Federation’s Director of State Affairs and a fifth-generation rancher from Sweet Grass County, Montana. In addition to lobbying full-time on behalf of farmers and ranchers, Chelcie and her husband are growing their own herd of commercial cattle and a professional fencing business. Chelcie can be contacted at (406) 587-3153 or The Montana Farm Bureau Federation is a non-partisan, non-profit, grassroots organization that represents 22,000 member families in Montana.