Rotunda Roundup from Montana Farmers Union: Legislative Update for Jan. 16-20
BY RACHEL PREVOST AND JASMINE KROTKOV, MFU GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS TEAM
This week, Montana Farmers Union had a busy week in the Capitol, working on the issues important to family farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
Whether it’s a combine, a loader tractor, or a powered wheelchair, owners of their equipment should have the right to repair their own equipment, and Montana Farmers Union testified in support of HB 195, which would revise consumer rights laws to repair powered wheelchairs.
Right to repair is a critically important issue to MFU’s membership, and one that we will continue to work on throughout the session for agricultural equipment. We believe that owners, along with independent repair technicians, should be able to repair the equipment they own.
HB 195, which is sponsored by Rep. Alice Buckley, was heard on Jan. 16, in the House and Human Services Committee. This was a positive hearing, and the committee asked a lot of great questions, but unfortunately the bill, currently, has been tabled in the committee on an 11-10 vote. We look forward to continuing our work on right to repair this session.
Another bill that came up this week to highlight is HB 206, which is sponsored by Rep. Ron Marshall to “Generally revise mill levy election laws.” The bill was heard on Jan. 18 in the House State Administration committee, and MFU opposed this bill.
HB 206 would change the way local governments levy mills for things like school operating funds, park districts, fire districts and for public safety. It would require that there be 50-percent voter turnout for the election to count and would limit the duration of levies to five years. Montana Farmers Union opposed the bill because our members have a strong interest in rural education. Such restrictions on the ability to raise money for schools does not bode well for rural Montana students and the next generation’s ability to stay on the land and earn a good living.
Another highlight, is HB 276 introduced this week, which would “establish a farm to food bank grant program.” This program is to be run through the Department of Agriculture, which will establish and administer the program, establish grant requirements and a grant process, along with the necessary rules to make this a successful program.
Benefits of a Montana Farm to Food Bank Program include that it will build community by cultivating relationships between local food pantries and their area growers, farmers, and ranchers. This program will support small farmers, ranchers, and growers by giving them a new market in which to sell their products and strengthening local food systems. The program will nourish members of our communities by increasing access to fresh vegetables, meat, and other local food products. Additionally, the program will boost local economies by keeping more money in towns to support local businesses. MFU supports this bill and the program because we think that Montanans should be able to access food that is grown locally and by folks in their community. We also see this as another viable market opportunity for our producers around the state, and another way to keep our dollars within our local communities and economies. We encourage you to reach out to your representative, and members of the House Agriculture committee in the coming weeks and ask them to support this bill.
Another bill of note this week was HB 153 which is sponsored by Rep. Brandon Ler and aims to generally revise laws related to livestock markets. This bill passed out of the House Agriculture committee on Jan. 5, and had its second hearing this week on Tuesday, Jan. 17 in Senate Agriculture. MFU supports this as it provides adequate protection for producers, updates the language to match federal law with the Packers and Stockyards Act, and moves toward modernization for video and internet auctions. MFU also supported this bill in the House Agriculture Committee.
Montana Farmers Union also continued to support HB 44, sponsored by Rep. Julie Dooling that would revise document requirements for state stock inspectors. This bill passed out of the House Agriculture committee on Jan. 5, and had its second hearing on Jan. 17 in Senate Agriculture. Requested by the Department of Livestock the bill removes the requirement for triplicate copies of brand inspections. MFU supports this bill as it is good for modernizing toward digital but still allows those who are still wanting to use paper copies for brand inspections to do so. MFU also supported this bill in the House Agriculture Committee.
Montana Farmers Union opposed SB 140, which is sponsored by Sen. Keith Regier and would revise union membership laws. The bill was heard in Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs on Jan. 20. MFU opposes SB 140, as it would force employers to collect employee data annually and to illegally discuss union membership with employees. Rural communities rely on jobs with nonprofits, and they deserve the freedom to decide for themselves if they want to join a union.
In the coming weeks, Montana Farmers Union will continue working in the Capitol, advocating for family farmers, ranchers, and rural communities, guided by MFU’s member written policy.
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