Rotunda Roundup from Montana Farmers Union: Legislative Update for Feb. 13-17
The following is a weekly update of Montana Farmers Union involvement in the 2023 Legislature. MFU is the state’s largest and oldest grassroots farm advocacy organization representing family farms, and has worked more than 100 years on behalf of Montana farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
BY RACHEL PREVOST and JASMINE KROTKOV
MONTANA FARMERS UNION GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS TEAM
Two bills dealing with Montana Farmers Union’s priority of securing producers’ right to repair their own equipment have been introduced.
Both HB 475, sponsored by Rep. Tom France, and SB 347, sponsored by Sen. Willis Curdy, would provide farmers and ranchers the ability to repair their own equipment when a sensor or breakdown brings their work to a sudden stop. Delay in service from an authorized technician that farmers and ranchers are currently forced to use, when repair is needed, could cost a producer their crop.
In addition to paying attention to upcoming bills, the Montana Farmers Union Government Affairs Team was hard at work again this past week, supporting and opposing bills based on the grassroots organization’s member-written policy. With that work, MFU also continued to support HB 276 in its second House hearing in the House Appropriations Committee, this time focusing on the funding ask. This grant program creates a viable market opportunity our members. Letting food banks buy directly from our local farmers and ranchers is an important way to build markets. MFU supports the development of local and regional food systems and infrastructure that shorten the distance between the farm and table, and this program, along with its appropriation does a lot of good to close that distance.
Also this past week, MFU supported:
- SB 28: Conservation districts do myriad work in and around farm country. Montana family farmers and ranchers rely on their work to help keep their kids on the land. Using additional funding from the marijuana fund for conservation districts is a good plan.
- HB 418: MFU’s members want to keep independent family farmers and ranchers on the farm. Limiting the acreage that can be irrigated in government-based irrigation districts, is a good step in the right direction. We oppose consolidation of farmland ownership and control over our local irrigation districts into the hands of a few. Having more farms in an irrigation district will also help keep our rural schools open.
- SB 295: MFU is glad to see that the Fish and Wildlife commission and Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, being proactive and preparing for the time if/when grizzly bears are delisted. Many of our members have a vested interest in grizzly bear management, and support having rules in place to guide how livestock owners will be able to respond to grizzly bears that attack or kill livestock.
- HB 388: This is a good bill for protecting herd health in the state of Montana. When cattle are imported into the state without proper certificates or inspections, it puts Montana’s cattle herds and producers at risk. This increased penalty will hopefully deter future violations of those health inspection and certificate requirements.
- HB 463: Tracking how much Montana grown food is purchased by the state of Montana will help in promoting resilient regional food systems and diverse markets. We think this will provide valuable data to help us highlight the importance of supporting local food systems, Montana growers and Montana Food, as well as provide a valuable benchmark to see the current amount/how we can increase the amount of Montana Food procured.
Montana Farmers Union also opposed several bills this past week, including:
- SB 251: This bill would require counties and cities to sunset mil levies after six years. The bill would exclude a variety of different types of mill levies, which can be problematic. If there’s a levy to support a library, and a different one to support public transit, they exist in relation to one another. It’s also problematic insofar as all the exemptions act to pick winners and losers. Why didn’t weed control levies get an exemption? Our members would like to pick their own projects to support through a vote.
- SB 292: This bill would change the way votes are counted in mil levies, much the same way that SB 291 changed the value of Nos and Yeses in Bond elections. Unlike SB 291, this bill would have a strong impact on rural schools, so we opposed it, for the same reasons we opposed SB 251, which was about imposing a sunset on mil levies.
- HB 448: It denies workers the right to self-organization by imposing a slew of burdensome regulations. These would make it hard or nearly impossible for employees to exercise their right to join to demand reasonable wages and working conditions. That right is essential for rural families and communities to earn a living. Indeed, it is essential for humanity at large.
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.
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