Legislative Update, May 7

Legislative Update, May 7

The 67th Legislative session adjourned Sine Die on April 29th.

Stay tuned for a final wrap-up and updates in the next week regarding bills that get signed or vetoed!

Action taken on bills that MFU supported:

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. The bill initially passed out of the House on March 11 and was heard on March 19 in the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Safety but was tabled. The bill was taken from the table and blasted in the Senate on April 20. The bill passed through the full legislature and has been sent to the Governor’s desk.

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 Sen. Dan Salomon.

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. HB 681 has passed the full legislature and has been sent to the Governor’s desk.

SJ 28 — Study of Flathead River erosion: This bill purposes a study foran interim committee to review issues of erosion along the Flathead River. Montana Farmers Union support SJ 28 as this study could provide information to help farmers and ranchers address soil erosion that affects water access. With agriculture being an economic backbone of our state, farmers and ranchers access to water and good quality water is imperative to the industry. The study resolution is sponsored by Senate President Mark Blasdel. The resolution has passed the full legislature and was filed with the Secretary of State.

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 has passed the full legislature and has been sent to the Governor’s desk soon.

SJ 30 — Study of food regulations: Montana Farmers Union supports SJ 30 as it is critical that Montana works to develop policy in the near future that will help our agricultural producers have greater access to local meat processing so that more consumers can safely access local food. In order to meet these needs, Montana needs to have more meat inspectors for processing facilities and label inspection in retail markets. All of these things do converge at local and state levels, and it’s important to consider the necessary federal laws, rules, and regulations to provide further understanding of how all three levels interact. Sen. Hertz was the sponsor of the resolution. The resolution did not get heard on the Senate floor for 2nd reading so the resolution is no longer up for consideration.

Bills that MFU opposed last week:

HB 695 (Amended version: Leaving Montana energy customers on the hook): MFU opposes the amended version of HB 695, because we believe the amendment added to HB 695 is harmful for Montana energy customers. This last-minute amendment, in effect, benefits NorthWestern Energy, and will increase energy rates for Montana consumers. Montana Farmers Union opposes a rate increase being forced on Montana farmers and irrigators without their interests being considered. This amended version of HB 695 did not get heard on the Senate Floor for 2nd reading so the bill is no longer up for consideration.

HB 693 – This was the Companion bill to Section D which covers budgetary sections in Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Justice. Montana Farmers Union did not have a position on the bill until a dangerous last minute amendment put onto it that would have required the Department of Justice to investigate the political and lobbying activity of environmental organizations in Montana. MFU opposed this amendment as it’s definitions of the organizations to be investigated was non-existent. The amendment was invasive to the privacy of environmental organization’s memberships as well. The last minute timing of the amendment did not allow for public comment. MFU submitted opposition to the Free Conference committee members and the harmful amendment was removed in the Free Conference committee. MFU no longer has a position on the bill.

SB 399 — Generally revise and simplify income taxes: Montana Farmers Union opposes SB 399 as we oppose the repeal of the oilseed crush facility tax credit (for the purposes of producing biodiesel or biolubricant), and the repeal of the biodiesel or biolubricant production facility tax credit. Montana Farmers Union supports encouraging the expansion of biofuels to clean our air and create opportunities for farmers and ranchers and repealing these tax credits may hinder the production of biofuels. The bill is sponsored by Senator Greg Hertz and has passed the full Legislature. The bill has been sent to the Governor’s desk.

SB 379 — Generally revise coal-fired generation laws: Montana Farmers Union opposes SB 379. We believe that SB 379 places all the risk on Montana ratepayers. It essentially takes the Public Service Commission out of the conversation when it comes to regulating fair rates. This would, in effect, force NorthWestern’s Montana ratepayer customers to be captive to the interests of the utility, without their interests being considered fairly. Montana consumers will eventually pay a heavy increase in rates down the road. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick and was heard in the House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations committee on April 14. The committee tabled SB 379.

HB 279 — Revise laws related to tax credit scholarship and innovative education programs. MFU submitted soft opposition to HB 279 over concerns that in the long term there could be an effect on our rural public schools. The bill has passed the full legislature and has been sent to the Governor’s desk.

Budget Bills that MFU supported:

HB 14 – Long-Range Building Bonding Program: In HB 14, MFU supports the funding request for the Montana Veterinarian Diagnostic and Ag Analytical Labs. These labs are essential to the health and well-being of the Agriculture industries Montana. Also included in HB 14 is the funding request for the MAES Research and Wool Laboratories. These programs provide the tools necessary to stay competitive around the world in the commodities market. MFU supported those projects in the bill. HB 14 has passed the full legislature and has been sent to the Governor’s desk soon.

HB 632 – Implement receipt and appropriate use of federal stimulus and COVID recovery funds: MFU supported funding the St. Mary and Milk River System repair project, funding for rural broadband, as well as funds for the Montana Veterinarian Diagnostic and Ag Analytical Labs, as well as MAES Research and Wool Laboratories funding. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Frank Garner. HB 632 has passed the full legislature and has become law.

HB 2 — General Appropriations Act: MFU supported funding for the Department of Agriculture as well as the Department of livestock. In HB 2, MFU supported the funding that was implemented by Sen. Bogner to have Montana apply and enroll in the Cooperative Interstate Shipping program (CIS) for Montana beef. In HB 2, MFU also supported the funding for the MAES and Seed and Wool Lab, as well as the funding for the Montana Veterinary Diagnostic Lab and Ag Analytical Lab. HB 2 has passed the full legislature and will be sent to the Governor’s desk soon.

Action taken on Bills that MFU supported:

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 is a top priority resolution for Montana Farmers Union. 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 and House with near unanimous votes on the floor. Both committee hearings went great with no opponents. The Resolution has been filed with the Secretary of State.

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. The bill has passed the full legislature and has been sent to the Governor’s desk.

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 (for producing edible oil.) The bill is sponsored by Sen. Walt Sales and has passed the full legislature. SB 288 has been sent to the Governor’s desk.

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 filed with the Secretary of State.

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 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. The bill failed to pass off the House floor on 2nd reading and is no longer up for consideration.

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.

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 American 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. This is the House Agriculture committee study bill that would create an interim committee study to review food security, value-added agriculture, and agricultural prosperity in the state. The bill is sponsored by the Chair of the House Agriculture committee. The bill was tabled in the Senate Agriculture committee on April 15.

Action taken on Bills that MFU opposed:

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. The bill has passed the full Legislature and has been sent to the Governor’s desk.

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 was sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick and has become law.

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.

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