Rotunda Roundup From Montana Farmers Union: Legislative Update For April 17-21
Because Montana Farmers Union members value equitable, quality, and inclusive education, MFU opposed HB 562, which would undermine and underfund Montana’s public schools.
Public schools should be fully funded, but a charter school system, as described in the bill sponsored by Rep. Sue Vinton, willnegatively impact funding for rural public schools. Charter schools or “community choice” schools do not serve urban and rural students equally and have been shown to underserve students with disabilities and special needs.
Montana’s farm and ranch communities simply have too few K-12 students to sustain additional schools, which can and do affect the enrollment of local school districts and their budgets.
We urge this committee to instead work toward providing public schools with enough funding to guarantee educational opportunity for rural public schools.
This week, MFU also weighed in against HB 906, sponsored by Rep. Casey Knudsen, as currently presented.
How to differentiate between recreational and agricultural land taxation is a pressing question. MFU fully supports efforts to study this issue and would support the bill if amended.
Montana’s differential tax assessment has failed to prevent some people from falsely claiming an agricultural tax status. This puts an extra strain on rural communities, which find themselves with smaller tax bases.
Policy should promote the continuation of farming. Knudsen’s bill attempts to do that by differentiating between recreational and agricultural land, but, as written, misses the mark.
Also this week in the Legislature, MFU supported:
SR 53: Access to factual, timely, accurate information enables the constitutional process of checks and balances to function well and allows informed participation by farmers and ranchers in government and community activities.
SJ 27 and SJ 58: A strong Montana is rooted in self-sufficiency in natural resources, particularly food production. We must not become dependent on imported food.
Food security is a major concern to American consumers and producers.
Food security can be defined as having, always, both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life – something MFU members view as a basic human right.
In Montana, food security seems to be a non-issue, since agriculture is the backbone of our economy and traditions. Unfortunately, many Montana families and communities face food insecurity and lack of access to fresh, healthy foods.
The pandemic highlighted a broken food system in which, for example, Montanans produce a lot of beef and wheat, but it’s not always easy to get a loaf of bread or a hamburger.
Our future agricultural economy is in jeopardy as producers face severe obstacles and supply chain issues persist.
Farming and ranching are becoming more and more difficult – if not impossible – for current and future generations of producers. Producers of all ages and stages face numerous obstacles that should be studied to find potential solutions.
Without family farmers and ranchers, our food supply would be forced to depend on corporate and foreign producers, whose primary concern is the profit of shareholders, not food security.
This bill examines our food system and how we can prioritize food security for all. We urge the Ag Committee to support this opportunity to study food security, along with how to create a robust food system that is beneficial for farmers, laborers, consumers, and the state economy.
MFU is also monitoring upcoming legislation, including HB 944.
MFU will support HB 944, sponsored by Rep. Paul Tuss, which provides one-time grants with a matching component and sustainability plan, for school districts to develop a Montana in-demand skilled trades investment.
Montana Farmers Union policy urges adequate funding for vocational and technical education to keep the next generation on the land and build functional communities.
The bill states: “The purpose of the program is to strengthen career and technical education pipelines to ensure a skilled workforce in the trades and especially in those trades facing workforce shortages in the state.”
This is essential work for Montana to have qualified agricultural workers, equipment operators, inspectors, farm and ranch workers, laborers, and more critical professions in our rural communities.
The value generated by keeping the next generation in Montana, and keeping our rural communities thriving, will provide ample return on investment.
Go to https://montanafarmersunion.com/legislation/ for more details on MFU’s legislative work throughout the Legislative Session on behalf of Montana’s farmers, ranchers and rural communities.