Rotunda Roundup From Montana Farmers Union: Legislative Update For March 13-17
Montana Farmers Union this week continued its work to advocate for and oppose bills during the Legislative Session based on its grassroots policy written by MFU members.
Bills supported this week included:
- SB 296: Rural Montana has an enormous problem with getting appropriate, skilled nursing support for our senior friends, neighbors and family members who want to continue to live near where they spent their lives. Rural Montana hospitals and care facilities rely heavily on Medicaid and Medicare payments, and nearly half of Montanans covered by Medicaid are from small towns, where many businesses can’t afford to pay for health insurance for their employees. We’re gratified to see the language, which not only allows, but requires the department to consider cost factors unique to rural long-term care facilities.
- HB 114: MFU’s member-written policy document states our support for a broad water development policy, which insures multiple uses and recognizing the primacy of the needs of agriculture. Water rights are notoriously inscrutable. It’s hard- and contentious- to determine who has senior rights to water, and how those appropriation rights, permits, assessments, etc. are distributed. Shortening the process for a water right application from 360 to 105 days is important for farmers and ranchers. Still the process is too long, complex, and expensive. We appreciate the provisions of this bill to streamline the process, give input to applicants at the beginning of the process, and consider public comments. We would like to see enough funding to allow the DNRC to hire staff and prevent increasing costs to farmers and ranchers.
- SB 71: MFU actively works to support programs that increase farmer profitability by elevating milk prices, preventing overproduction and reducing milk price volatility. This bill updates language to be more current, and we are glad to see that the Department of Livestock has updated and has an eye on milk price and quality controls code.
- 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.
- 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, $500 per animal or $5,000, whichever is greater, will hopefully deter future violations of those health inspection and certificate requirements.
- HB 649: Rural Montana has an enormous problem with getting access to appropriate health care. Rural Montana hospitals and care facilities rely heavily on Medicaid and Medicare payments. MFU policy specifies: “incentivize providers to practice in rural areas, improving access to and quality of care.” The best way to incentivize providers is to compensate them fairly for their work. The $12m per year that this bill calls for will be multiplied by a factor of at least three and in some cases nine, in Federal matching funds. Leveraging our money this way, to invest in our rural communities, is necessary to support farm families.
- HB 382: Our member-written policy urges adequate funding for vocational-technical education. This bill and its proposed funding are a good step in the right direction and a good investment in training our future workforce. We thank the sponsor for bringing the bill forward and appreciate that the funding will be allocated to support these programs.
Bills opposed by MFU included:
- HB 549: Education has long been regarded as a national ethic, preceding the establishment of our country as an independent nation. The members of Montana Farmers Union continue to believe this despite the headlong rush of this legislature into privatizing the public good that public education provides.Rural areas currently face real issues with funding and enrollment. Montana’s farm and ranch communities simply have too few K-12 students to sustain an additional school, and the additional schools can and do affect the enrollment of local school districts and their budgets.This bill will undermine and underfund our public schools. We urge this committee to instead work toward equity in access and quality of educational opportunity for rural public schools.