BY Rachel Prevost and Kim Mangold
Bills that MFU supported this past week:
- SB 273 — Generally revise laws related to equipment repair: This bill would provide that the manufacturers of electronics enabled equipment provide farmers and ranchers, as well as independent repair shops, the tools necessary to repair their own equipment.
- Status: The bill was heard in the Senate Business and Labor committee on Feb. 25. The hearing went great. The proponent testimony clearly displayed the frustration that Montana farmers face when trying to repair equipment they own. The committee asked great questions that showed why this bill matters. The bill has bipartisan support. This bill is a top priority for MFU, working with Sen. Mark Sweeney and Rep. Katie Sullivan. The bill passed out of committee on a 10-1 vote on Feb. 26, 2021.
- SJ 11 — Resolution to provide a “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.
- Status: This bill was heard Feb. 23 and passed out of committee unanimously on Feb. 25. We expect it to be up for 2nd reading on the Senate floor this week. This resolution is a top priority for MFU, working with Sen. Ellie Boldman and Rep. Willis Curdy in the House.
- SB 369 — Generally revise laws related to insurance coverage of telemedicine services: Montana Farmers Union supported SB 369 as it helps move access to telemedicine and telehealth in the state forward. This bill does is good for Rural Montanans and working toward increasing access to mental health and telehealth services. This bill is sponsored by Sen. Jason Small
- 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.
- Status: This bill is sponsored by Sen. Walt Sales and was heard in Senate Tax on Feb. 24.
- SB 285 — Provide gas and fuel tax refund for agriculture: This bill allows “An applicant whose use qualifies as agricultural use may apply for a refund of the applicable tax on the gallons of gasoline or special fuel as indicated by evidence of retail purchases as an estimate of off highway use.” Gasoline has been added.
- Status: This bill was heard on Feb. 23 and is carried by Sen. Steve Hinebauch.
- HB 396 — Clarify hemp seed as commercial feed. 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.
- Status: This bill was heard in the House Agriculture committee on Feb. 23 and is sponsored by Rep. Josh Kassmier.
- HB 390 — Generally revise laws related to equipment repair: This bill would provide that the manufacturers of electronics enabled equipment provide farmers and ranchers, as well as independent repair shops, the tools necessary to repair their own equipment. Proponent testimony was great, however the committee had heard 20 bills before so the hearing was not what we had hoped.
- Status: Immediately after the hearing, the bill was TABLED in the House Judiciary committee. This bill is a top priority for MFU, working with Rep. Katie Sullivan and Sen. Mark Sweeny.
- 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.
Bills that MFU opposed last week:
- 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 it is a great example of collaboration from a variety of parties.
- Status: This bill was heard in Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety and passed out committee with amendments.
- HB 336 — Interstate cooperative meatpacking compact. MFU supports the amendment that the sponsor added to the bill, and appreciates the intent of the bill. There are some concerns about putting Montana’s State Meat inspection program at risk through the bill so MFU opposes the bill.
- Status: This bill was heard on Feb. 23 in the House Agriculture committee. The amended version passed out of committee on Feb. 25.
Action on Bills in the past week that MFU supported:
- SB 210 — Revise laws related to country of origin labeling. This bill requires that a placard designating “Born, raised, and processed in the USA” or “Imported/Origin Unlabeled” be placed in the vicinity of the beef and/or pork at the store.
- Status: This bill was heard in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation committee on Feb. 18. It was a good hearing with good questions and proponent testimony. The bill was tabled in the Senate Ag committee on Feb. 23.
- SB 209 — Limit all commercial marijuana cultivation to enclosed indoor settings. This bill will require that all commercial marijuana cultivation will be limited to an enclosed indoor settings, further separating, protecting, and furthering hemp production with this change.
- Status: This bill was heard in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation committee on Feb. 18. The bill was tabled in the Senate Agriculture committee on Feb. 25.
- SB 180 — Soil Health Study: This bill would dedicate an interim committee to study the viability of a comprehensive soil health program in the State of Montana. This Soil Health Study bill will help guide/educate an interim committee on soil health measures in order to develop policy recommendations to both the state and federal decision makers. Montana Farmers Union supports this bill because it will allow stakeholders within the state to develop a plan of possibilities that will work for Montana.
- Status: This bill was heard in Senate Natural Resources on Feb. 17.
- SB 242 — Prohibit transfer of GPS data without permission: This bill would prohibit the sale of GPS data without permission. Montana Farmers Union policy states that “Storage and use of data should be strictly prohibited without the well-defined legal consent of individuals.
- Status: This bill was heard in Senate Judiciary on Feb. 19. The bill was amended to include prohibiting the sharing or transfer of the data also. The bill passed as amended out of committee on Feb. 23.
- HJ 7 — St. Mary’s and Milk River Repair and Rehabilitation. This project is critical to all those that farm, live and work in Northern Montana.
- Status: This resolution was heard and passed executive action in the House Agriculture Committee on Feb. 18. The resolution will be heard in the Senate soon. This resolution is sponsored by Rep. Casey Knudsen.
- HB 324 — Generally revise certain labeling laws. This bill is a top priority for Montana Farmers Union and requires that a placard designating “Born, raised, and processed in the USA” or “Imported/Origin Unlabeled” be placed in the vicinity of the beef and/or pork at the store.
- Status: This bill was heard in the House Agriculture Committee on Feb. 11. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Frank Smith and Rep. Willis Curdy. It was a good hearing and Montana Farmers Union had quite a few members testify in full support of the bill. The bill was TABLED in the House Agriculture committee on Feb. 18. After a blast motion on the House floor, the bill remains tabled.
- HB 103 — Revise cooperative laws to provide for remote participation. We are in strong support of cooperatives as it is a guidepost of Montana Farmers Union. This bill is a fix that allows for virtual participation at cooperative meetings which they were previously limited. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Willis Curdy and Montana Farmers Union supported this bill in both the House and Senate.
- Status: The bill has been concurred and sent back to the House with amendments.
- SR 67 — Montana Farmers Union also submitted testimony in support of the nominations of members Gilles Stockton and Wendy Palmer to the Board of Livestock. Their confirmation hearings were on Feb. 11 in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation. Unfortunately, the committee report was not adopted and they were not confirmed to serve on the Board of Livestock.
- 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.
- Status: This bill is sponsored by Sen. Mary McNally and was heard in Senate Energy and Telecommunications committee on Feb. 2. The bill has passed third reading and will be transmitted to the House.
Bills that MFU will support this week: Transmittal is March 3, so the legislators will likely be on the floor and taking executive action in committees March 1-3. Montana Farmers Union will track hearings and executive action and act according to the policy voted on by our membership.
- LC3225 – 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.