Rotunda Roundup From Montana Farmers Union: Legislative Update For April 3-7

Rotunda Roundup From Montana Farmers Union: Legislative Update For April 3-7

Political appointment of water court judges, as included in Senate Bill 72, could have unintended consequences, including giving priority to non-agricultural uses of water.

Montana Farmers Union opposes SB 72 and instead supports current water law with prior appropriations doctrine and a farmland and rangeland protection policy to encourage the continuation of farming rather than urban development.

Water court judges perform many duties in addition to guiding statewide adjudication. They can direct the DNRC to conduct field investigations of claims and perform other duties that are at times closely intertwined with sections of a political administration. The current practice of having the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court appoint the chief water judge provides a separation of powers that would be lost if SB 72 is enacted.

The amendment allowing a petition to have the water right case heard in a district court begs the question of the need for this new bureaucracy at all. It isn’t needed now and wouldn’t be needed for at least two more sessions. That time should be used to find a way to reduce bureaucracy, not increase it.

MFU also supported several bills this week in the Legislature based on its members’ grassroot policy, including HB 276, which unfortunately failed 24-26 on the Senate floor.

The bill would create a Montana Farm to Food Bank program, supporting local food producers and Montanans who visit food pantries. This bill increases access to locally grown foods, and directly supports farmers and ranchers while opening new market access opportunities.

See how senators voted here.

While MFU is disappointed with the outcome, its members continue to support building local food supply chains.

Other bills Montana Farmers Union supported this week include:

  • SB 447: MFU supports the expansion of agritourism opportunities. Trying to compete with the economics of corporate scale means that our members must be more and more creative in finding ways to augment low prices, and to defray ever-increasing costs. Broadening the definition of agritourism to include U-Pick operations, and the way the amendment clarifies the definition of inherent risk are sensible.
  • SJ 9: MFU members and our policy recognize the importance of soil health. Montana’s farmers and ranchers are leaders in healthy soil practices and a Montana Soil Health Week can help raise awareness of these good practices and continue to educate others about how agriculture and soil health are critically important.
  • HB 383: Our members are acutely aware of the impacts – fiscal, social, and ecological – which nonresident hunters and anglers have on our communities. Their visits put pressure on local services, without recompense. While the Fiscal Notes calculate that there will be no – or negligible – impact to the state budget from implementing this grant program, obviously there will be an impact to local communities. The grants will create opportunities for communities to band together and build resilience.
  • HR 6: MFU has long advocated that labels should accurately reflect the contents of the product being sold, including the country of origin. This session we brought forth HB 350 which would have made Montana a leader in country-of-origin-labeling, but the House Agriculture committee killed it. Montana beef and pork producers are forced to compete against imports that are misleadingly labeled as Product of USA, which isn’t fair to ranchers or families. Consumers deserve a transparent and secure food supply chain, and our producers deserve credit for the high-quality product they are raising. Right now, there is great momentum at the federal level with the American Beef labeling act, and MFU will continue to advocate for mandatory COOL at the federal level. We urged passing HR 6 to let Congress know what is important to Montana constituents.
  • SB 132: In revising the funding for Advancing Agricultural Education as proposed in SB 132, we are committing to spend the equivalent of what is allocated to the Montana State Lottery for inflation in the governor’s budget. From the perspective of MFU members, incentivizing small schools to provide ag education is crucial. Expanding Ag education helps the next generation understand how they can have a future on the land.


2023 Montana Farmers Union Annual Convention

October 27, 2023 - October 28, 2023
Heritage Inn, Great Falls MT