Rotunda Roundup From Montana Farmers Union: Legislative Update For May 1-2

Rotunda Roundup From Montana Farmers Union: Legislative Update For May 1-2

The 68th Montana Legislative Session was remarkable for many reasons, including the volume of legislation that was pushed through, as well as the amount of work MFU staff and members did to educate legislators and stakeholders on the importance of MFU priorities and issues impacting family farmers, ranchers, and rural communities.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to testify and contact legislators to let them know how their actions affect you. The impact of your active participation in the legislative process is evident in the successes and gains we made this session, as we proactively worked on issues critically important to family farmers, ranchers, and rural communities.

MFU backed six priority bills in the House and Senate, including two on Agricultural Right to Repair, Country of Origin Labeling for beef and pork, Agricultural Data Harvest, a study on Agricultural Data Harvest, and a bill to incentivize retail shelf space for Montana grown foods.

We created strong relationships with legislators, agency staff, the Governor’s office, the Montana American Indian Caucus, and other lobbyists and organizations.

We held the line on many of the threats to our constitution, prevented Right to Work bills from passing, and opposed bills that would have had a negative impact on rural voting rights and access. We helped to make real gains for alternative fuels in Montana, advocated for local and regional food systems, and shaped the narrative on a lot of other bills through our storytelling, testimony and communications work.

In the final days of the session, MFU supported two bills in particular:

  • SJ 30, sponsored by Sen. Butch Gillespie, Interim study on alcohol licensing and viticulture: The bill was heard May 1 in the House Business and Labor committee. MFU encourages continued research, development, and marketing of new and existing specialty crops in Montana. We support development of Montana vineyard production and marketing through Montana wineries. While most agricultural crops are regulated through the Department of Agriculture, viticulturists have a number of other requirements to meet, as their product is also regulated by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division. Advances in interspecies cold hardy hybrid grapes mean that Montana can start developing distinctive niche wines, and this study will look at how to revise the MCA to accommodate wine grown in Montana. Current law treats wine as an import, not as a domestic specialty crop. The bill passed out of the committee, and second and third reading in the House prior to the Sine Die motion. The next steps for the interim study request will be the ranking process, where legislators will rank all the studies that passed the full legislature. The interim committees will then prioritize the highest ranked studies into their work plan.
  • HJ 27, sponsored by Rep. Katie Sullivan, Study on Agricultural Data Collection: The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Business and Labor Committee on May 2, 10-0, following a good hearing with good questions and no opposition. Data collected from farmers should not be used to take advantage of farmers. Data is often being harvested from farmers without their knowledge. Custom applicators, seeders and harvesters are not required to tell farmers that their data is being harvested, and farmers don’t have the chance to opt out. This is valuable data that can be used to inform trading on the commodities markets. For example, during harvest, harvesters are collecting yield and quality, this provides an accurate estimate of the production of commodities. Brokers and foreign buyers can use this info to better position themselves in the markets at the expense of producers. The USDA Statistics Service spends a great deal of money and time collecting this information by requesting farmers to fill out surveys. Hackers, or anyone with access to this valuable data before its release could have inside information and use it to manipulate commodity markets. This bill next needed to go through second and third reading in the Senate. However, the Senate adjourned Sine Die before HJ 27 made it through the process, and unfortunately is dead now that the session has completed. Thank you to everyone who supported HJ 27 throughout the legislative process. We look forward to our continued work on this important issue.

While the session has ended, below is an update on some priority bills that MFU worked on this session:

  • HB 276, Rep. Marty Malone, Create a Farm to Foodbank Grant Program: This bill was unfortunately tabled in the Senate Finance and Claims committee following its successful second reading vote off the Senate floor. The bill remained on the table and did not pass. MFU supported this bill throughout the legislative process.
  • HB 805, Rep. Ross Fitzgerald, Revise laws related to cooperatives: The bill will allow cooperatives incorporated under Chapter 15 and 17 to use electronic means of communication, expands investment/preferred stock rate of return from 6% to 8%, and protects the cooperative name. This bill has been signed by the Governor, and is now law. MFU strongly supported this bill throughout the legislative process.
  • SB 296, Sen. Becky Beard, Revising nursing home and/or assisted living funding: This bill was heavily amended throughout the legislative process, but is still good news for rural nursing homes. The bill is on the Governor’s desk. MFU supported this bill throughout the legislative process.
  • SB 447, Sen. Butch Gillespie, Revising agritourism laws: The bill was tabled in the House Agriculture committee. MFU supported the bill throughout the legislative process.
  • HR 6, Rep. James Bergstrom, Resolution supporting country of origin labeling: The resolution urges Congress to pass a mandatory COOL law for beef and pork. A copy of the resolution will be sent to each member of the Montana Congressional Delegation, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Office of the United States Trade Representative. MFU and Northern Plains Resource Council were the only proponents of the resolution. The House Agriculture committee tabled HB 350 earlier in the session, which would have implemented COOL for beef and pork in Montana. Learn more about that here: House Ag Committee Misses Opportunity on HB 350
  • Both HB 562 & HB 549 (charter School bills) are on their way to the Governor’s desk, and it remains to be seen if he will sign one and veto the other, or if he signs both of them, if they can co-exist. MFU opposed both bills throughout the legislative process.
  • SB 72, Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, Revise judicial administration of water rights: The bill was tabled in the House Judiciary Committee unanimously and remained on the table. MFU opposed this bill throughout the legislative process.

Montana Farmers Union’s advocacy work will continue as we track the interim committee’s work on studies they prioritize and other issues that are important to family farmers, ranchers, and rural communities.

You can still make an impact by sending a message or telephoning the Governor’s office and letting him know how his veto or support of a bill will impact your life. The MFU Government Affairs team will be happy to help.

If you are interested in how a bill ended up this session, and you don’t see it in today’s report, call our office at 406-452-6406 and Rachel Prevost (Government Affairs and Membership Services) would be happy to assist. 

To stay involved on a committee or through lobbying, reach out to your local ambassador or MFU Government Affairs Director Rachel Prevost. Find them HERE.

Read more about MFU’s legislative efforts during the Legislative Session here.


2023 Montana Farmers Union Annual Convention

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