2023 Montana Legislative Update from MT Farm Bureau Federation
Week 5 of the 2023 Montana Legislative Session is almost in the book and transmittal day is sneaking up quickly. Several groups are in Helena lobbying on behalf of their constituents including the Montana Farm Bureau Federation representing a large portion of the state’s agricultural producers.
Nicole Rolf, Senior Director of Governmental Affairs gave me an update on the current activity on the hill.
Nicole: Well, we've had some exciting weeks up in Helena already so far. At the beginning we were seeing a lot of agency bills and cleanup bills and red tape relief bills that were pretty straight forward and pretty short in nature in most cases. And now we're getting on to where we're seeing a larger variety of bills and are able to get involved in a lot of different issues that are important to our members.
Some of the bills that are coming out, that are from the governor that we've been able to support, a lot of those are in the tax arena. You've heard me talk a lot before, in years past, about business equipment tax and how important it is to go ahead and increase that exemption or reduce the tax rate in ways that is helpful to small businesses, and in our case, specifically farmers and ranchers.
As you know, farming and ranching is a capital intensive business and we own a lot of different equipment just to get the job done on our farms and ranches.
So this year we're supporting House Bill 212. It is at the request of the Governor's office, carried by Representative Josh Kassmier, and it increases the exemption from $300,000 to a million dollars. And this provides very real tax relief that's really helpful to small businesses. In fact, we heard testimony from the Department of Revenue that this will take about 5000 small businesses, many of them farms and ranches, completely off the tax rolls for class eight business equipment tax. Really it helps everyone that even has more than a million dollars’ worth of business equipment because the amount up to a million is exempt from taxation. So, really positive bill there. It passed out of the House Tax Committee fairly early on in the session and was referred to the Appropriations Committee because of course, it's going to have some impact to the state budget. It has moved now out of the House Appropriations Committee and will be continuing through the process, although now there's been some procedural votes that attach it with some other pieces of tax legislation to kind of help offset some of the budget impacts. But we'll be continuing to support that piece specifically through the process.
We also supported Senate Bill 121, which was introduced by Representative Becky Beard that reduces the income top income tax bracket from six and a half percent to 5.9%. This rate will apply to all income that people earn basically over around $20,000. So it's a little help to everyone who's in that earning, over that. It's a pretty broad based release and we've seen that the legislature reduced the income tax during the last session and still income tax receipts came in about 30% higher than we expected from the last budget estimates over the last biennium.
So we (MT Farm Bureau Federation) think this is a positive step that makes Montana more business friendly and also just a good deal for folks to keep some more money in their own pocket and spend it as they need on their own families or in their businesses.
We supported the confirmation of Director Christy Clark to the Department of Agriculture. That hearing was last Thursday and the Senate AG Committee had a great hearing. So much support for Director Clark out in the country.
She's (Christy Clark) done such great things with that department, really reaching out to her constituency, which is the farmers and ranchers of the state, attending lots of meetings and just interacting with farmers and ranchers all over the state as much as you can, really taking their input into factor.
And we really see a Department of Agriculture that is reflective of the needs of our AG community as a result. So we were more than pleased to support her confirmation. The Senate AG Committee went ahead and took executive action right away and passed her confirmation, confirmed it, and now this week, her full confirmation vote will happen on the Senate floor. So that's how these directorships work, the governor appoints, the Senate confirms and so we'll be excitedly watching floor action to see her final approval this week. So very exciting for her and for us in the country who see this department as a very important part of our government.
Another thing that's been a lot of talk about this topic out in the country, we heard a lot about it during our annual meeting back in November and I think there's probably a lot of talk about this over coffee in a lot of places across the state of Montana, whether you're a farmer or rancher or not. And that is the topic of ownership of foreign ownership of agriculture land by foreign entities. So last week we saw Senator Bogner introduce Senate Bill 203 which deals with the ownership of agriculture, land and critical infrastructure. And basically
That bill outlines that foreign governments or corporations based in foreign countries that are listed under an executive order as being adversarial to the United States, are not allowed to buy or lease land in Montana or have control of critical infrastructure.
That actually is very much in line with the policy that our members passed during our November meeting which said that we oppose the ownership of agriculture, land and critical infrastructure by adversarial governments. So we supported that bill. This is a tricky concept because there are property rights to take into factor, there are enforcement issues to take into consideration. There's a wide range of things to work through on this and we are working with the sponsor to help that bill reflect the needs of our members and comply with all of the important things that need to be done. We believe there may be a few more of these types of bills coming out. So we'll be watching all of them to see which ones are going to be the most impactful or the most in line with our member’ policy. But so far we supported Senate Bill 203 and we'll be watching as the other bill draft requests on the subject come forward.
Something that is likely of interest to farmers and ranchers all over the state. We're supporting House Bill 321 which is a funding bill for Conservation Districts. As we all know, conservation districts are essential to farmers and ranchers and that are the interface that help farmers and ranchers get projects done and comply with often times federal and state law in order to do conservation type projects. 310 permitting, they're there to help us work together with the Army Corps and other federal entities and provide a lot of service to farmers and ranchers in the country. So
This bill will utilize some of the Coal Trust Fund dollars in ways that can create sustainable funding for conservation districts without negatively impacting any of the other accounts, any of the other entities that currently benefit from the Coal Trust.
So a really smart funding move and a good way to keep that essential work happening. So we're pleased to do that.
Montana Farm Bureau worked together with the Montana Stock Growers Association and secured additional funding for the Made in Montana program. And this was an effort so that more farmers and ranchers could go through the process of getting made in Montana, grown in Montana, certified, and to be able to market their beef as grown in Montana. This is a really positive step because if consumers care what country their beef comes from, it's even more valuable for them to know that it was raised right here in Montana. And there are avenues right now for state and federally inspected meat products to be sold with that Made in Montana, Grown in Montana label through our retail establishments as we see fit.
We're very excited to invite our Montana Farm Bureau members to Helena on February 6 and 7th for our annual calling on the capital. We have members from all across the state, all the way from SE Montana to NW Montana coming to converge upon the capital those two days. We have a great lineup of speakers and ways for members to interact with the legislature. We're going to hear from agency heads, we get to meet with the Lieutenant Governor (Kristen Juris), we'll get to meet with the House and Senate AG Committee chairs and have a lot of interaction with the legislature and do some education on the legislative process. Our registration is still open for that on our website mfbf.org, and we do encourage folks to get signed up as soon as possible so we can include you in meal counts and travel situations. But we really look forward to welcoming lots of Montana Farm Bureau members up to Helena that week.
If you'd like to follow along and have updates. At the end of every week, we do a Facebook Live, usually at noon, sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later, depending on hearing schedules where we give updates on all of the bills that we've worked on during the session, also updates on the progress of bills of interest. And of course, it is Live, and we can watch for comments that come in and get to answer your questions in real time, so we welcome people to watch that and also to comment with your questions so we can answer you and share any information you're interested in, so we welcome that. Also remind members to check their email inboxes on Friday afternoons as we send out our weekly bill updates. So lots of ways to keep track of what's going on up here and we hope that you do that and really value the input from our members and just want to keep an open line of communication with everyone.
If you have a story idea or something you want to learn more about, give Randy a call at 406-788-3003 or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org