Legislative Update, April 7

Legislative Update, April 7

 Bills that MFU supported last week:

  • HB 657 – Establish the rural broadband revolving loan account: This bill is providing a rural broadband revolving loan account to get rural broadband in underserved areas of the state. MFU supports HB 657 because it is a critical step in bringing rural broadband to our rural communities in Montana that lack access to high-speed internet. This bill is sponsored by Rep. Tyson Running Wolf. The bill was tabled by the House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations committee on March 31.
  • HB 673 — Providing for the Montana broadband coordinator: This bill is providing for the Montana broadband coordinator position with appropriated funds to the Department of Commerce. MFU supports HB 673 because it is another critical step in increasing high-speed internet access for our Rural Students and community members. This bill is sponsored by Rep. Katie Sullivan. The bill was tabled in the House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations committee on March 31.
  • HB 708 — Study of food security and agricultural prosperity: Montana Farmers Union supports HB 708 as MFU feels food security is a major concern to Americans consumers in a changing world that has only been exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Studying food security and agricultural prosperity will help lead Montana to adopt policies that address food security that will be of great benefit to producers and offer protections to consumers. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Josh Kassmier and was heard in the House Agriculture Committee on April 1.
  • HB 681 — Create agricultural transportation enhancement account for port authorities: Montana Farmers Union supports efforts to increase infrastructure in the state and this bill provides the possibility for loading containers and improving commodity transportation in the state. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Josh Kassmier and was heard in the House Agriculture committee and passed out of the committee on March 30. It will be heard in the House Appropriations committee on April 6.
  • HB 700 — Generally revise agriculture laws: Montana Farmers Union stands in support of HB 700 as amended by the sponsor, Rep. Julie Dooling. The bill adds liability protections for seed cleaning and conditioning if the seed is incorrectly labeled or represented. We feel that seed cleaners should not be held liable for cleaning common seed that was unknowingly proprietary. The bill was heard by the House Agriculture Committee on April 1.

Action taken on Bills that MFU supported :

  • HB 642 — Establish a farm-to-school grant program at OPI: This bill would create a grant program administered through the Office of Public Instruction that would allow schools to curate locally grown and produced food for the school with Montana producers. Montana Farmers Union supports this bill because it boosts local food systems in Montana. The sponsor of this bill is Rep. Laurie Bishop. This bill was heard in the House Education committee on March 24. The bill was tabled by the committee on March 31.
  • SB 288 — Revise property exemption for agricultural processing facilities: MFU supports SB 288 because it changes the property exemption from just applying to canola to all oilseed processing. This bill was heard in Senate Taxation and passed out of the Senate. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Walt Sales and was heard in the House Taxation committee on March 24. The bill was concurred by the committee.
  • SJ 11 — Resolution to provide an accurate “Product of the USA” label for beef and pork born raised and processed in the United States: This will align with the current federal mandate enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. This bill was heard Feb. 23 and passed out of committee unanimously on Feb. 25. The resolution passed out of the Senate with a unanimous vote on the floor on March 1. The resolution was heard on Tuesday, March 16 in the House Agriculture committee. The hearing went great with no opponents. The bill passed out of the committee on March 18 17-0. This resolution is a top priority for MFU, working with Sen. Ellie Boldman. We expect it to be heard on the House floor soon.
  • HB 235 — Create nutrition incentive program for SNAP participants: The Double SNAP Dollars program allows for Montanans who face food insecurity to afford more local fruits and vegetables. State investment would not only provide stability for current operating sites (participating farmers markets and farm share markets), but also allow the program to improve food security for vulnerable families and improve health outcomes. Montana Farmers Union supports this bill because it will boost local food systems and prevent food insecurity among vulnerable Montanans. This bill is sponsored by Rep. Tom Welch and was heard in the House Human Services committee on Feb. 3. Amendments have been put on the bill changing the dollar amount being asked from the state. The bill passed out of the House on March 11 and was heard in the Senate on March 19 in the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Safety. The bill was tabled in committee.

Action taken on Bills that MFU opposed:

  • HB 633 — Establish the public charter schools act: This bill is sponsored by Rep. Ed Hill and would establish the framework for public charter schools in Montana. Montana Farmers Union opposes this bill because we oppose the removal or loss of funding from Montana public education which is protected in the Montana State Constitution. We feel this bill would hurt rural communities where the public school is often the lifeblood of the community and already vulnerable when it comes to funding. The bill was heard in the House Education committee on March 17. The committee tabled the bill on March 31.
  • SB 199 — Provide for the Montana Local Food Choice Act: Montana Farmers Union opposes this bill because it would make harmful amendments to the current Cottage Food Act. We feel that the current Cottage Food Act works and the current law it is a great example of collaboration from a variety of parties. This bill is sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz and was heard in Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety and passed out committee with amendments. This bill has passed out of the Senate and was heard in the House Human Service committee on March 17. The bill passed out of out of the House Human Services committee on March 26 and will be heard on the House floor soon.
  • SB 211 — Revise local subdivision review criteria regarding agriculture: Montana Farmers Union opposes SB 211, as is written; it seems this bill takes away from local governments to protect farmland and agriculture soils in their county or city. If this bill passes it forces locals to ignore the impact of a subdivision on farm land and agricultural soils. We support protecting farmland and local control. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick and was heard on March 11 in House Local Government. The bill has been amended and passed out of the committee. The bill was concurred in on the House floor for second reading on March 25. The bill has been sent to enrolling.

Bills coming up that MFU will support:

  • SB 357 — Generally revising requirements related to telehealth: Montana Farmers Union supports making telehealth more accessible for rural Montanans and this bill helps increase access to telemedicine and telehealth and moves the state forward. This bill is sponsored by Sen. Jen Gross. This bill passed unanimously out of the Senate and will be heard in the House Human Services Committee on April 12.

Action taken on Bills that MFU supported:

  • HJ 7 — St. Mary’s and Milk River Repair and Rehabilitation: MFU supports this resolution as this project is critical to all those that farm, live and work in Northern Montana. This resolution was heard and passed Executive Action in the House Agriculture Committee on Feb. 18. The resolution was heard in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation committee on March 9. This resolution is sponsored by Rep. Casey Knudsen. The resolution has been concurred in and returned from enrolling.
  • HB 396 — Clarify hemp seed as commercial feed: This bill was heard in the House Agriculture committee on Feb. 23 and is sponsored by Rep. Josh Kassmier. Montana planted 22,000 acres of hemp last year. In this bill, we see the addition of being able to use hemp seed and products for pet food and explore using it for animal feed. This bill will allow this new market to be explored and potentially utilized. This bill passed out of the House and was heard in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation committee on March 11 and has been concurred in and sent to enrolling.

SB 147 — Establish commercial property assessed capital enhancements program: This bill creates a financing program that would allow Montana producers to make energy efficiency upgrades to their property. Montana Farmers Union supports this bill because it encourages energy conservation practices and creates more jobs. This bill is sponsored by Sen. Mary McNally and was heard in Senate Energy and Telecommunications committee on Feb. 2. The bill was heard in the House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations committee on March 12 and the committee will likely take executive action on the bill in this upcoming week.

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