Rachel Cone, Director of State Governmental Affairs for Montana Farm Bureau Federation talked to KMON about the current legislative activities that are tied to agriculture.


Week 13 of the Montana Legislative Session

We have just passed our transmittal date for the revenue bills, which was on the 67th day. This past week was very busy with a lot of revenue bills getting through all of their first committees or getting final action taken. So a lot of the end of last week in the beginning of this week was the House and Senate on the floor working on those bills. So just some quick things of note. There were some bills that we saw last week coming around to their second chamber.  Senate Bill 93 having to do with the ballot issue process. And House Bill 114 was seen by finance and claims reminder that one has to do with the permanent change process for water. Another bill that we've talked about a lot is House Bill 642. That has to do with the exempt wells. Montana Farm Bureau was in very strong opposition to that bill because of negative impact to senior water rights. That bill was tabled in House Natural Resources late last week.

Important Confirmations

Some of the things of note from this week, Montana Farm Bureau supported two different confirmations. That was both for the Board of Livestock as well as the chief water judge. The Board of livestock appointed three new folks. Lily Anderson was one of them, who is a Park County Farm Bureau member. She was confirmed on Tuesday at Senate AG and was able to get right to work on Wednesday at the first Board of Livestock meeting.  The chief water judge, Russ McClay, was heard in Senate Judiciary last week and we were able to support him for all the good work that he's done already with the water court and certainly think that he has the expertise to continue leading that charge forward. So that was a brief recap of last week.

Tax Bills

There was a couple of different tax bills that were introduced last week that were also heard last week. One of them had to do with a local option sales tax, something Farm Bureau has opposed for many years. The reason Farm Bureau is opposed to local option sales taxes is you end up treating rural people who come into these more urban areas to do shopping or go to the movies, to go to sporting events, whatever it might be, they end up getting treated like tourists and are having to spend more of their own money, and then they don't actually receive any of the benefit because all of those dollars would stay localized. So we did oppose that bill. It was tabled in Senate tax last week as well. There was a handful of bills that would deal with how agriculture property is taxed in the classification of taxes. It is in the concept stage. The idea is, how can we make sure that Ag land is being used for production agriculture? If someone wants to buy Ag land and doesn't want to keep it in production agriculture, can we tax them differently since it's not being used for the same thing? In concept, that's something Farm Bureau agrees with, but in reality, these three bills have some holes in it, so Farm Bureau did oppose them. We'll continue to work through the interim and we're committed to find solutions to this problem

House Bill 2

The state's budget bill that was heard on the House floor a couple of weeks ago, when it was passed out of the House, is now starting its journey in the Senate. It's a much bigger, more in-depth bill than most of the other bills that we talk about and it has certain sections that deal with different parts of state government. For example, Section C deals with all the natural resources. So Department of Agriculture, Department of Livestock, the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality, all of them are part of Section C, and so Farm Bureau pays special attention to Section C, House Bill 2. It will be in Senate Finance and claims today and tomorrow and will be heard from that budget committee and go into depth on all the different things that have. At the beginning of the session, each one of those sections met to go through each department, and each part of the budget for those sections, and then they combined all of that to make House Bill 2. Now the chairman of each one of those subsection committees will be presenting this finance and claims. Finance and claims will go through the whole process and then hopefully late next week, we expect to see House Bill 2 on the Senate floor and getting the budget through the second half of its journey.


We've talked since the beginning of the session about the Comprehensive Water Review and how important that process was and the bills that came out of that. I already mentioned House Bill 114 getting through its second chamber and was heard in Senate Finance and claims. This week, Senate Bill 72 which deals with the future of the water court. How do we administer water rights for the future of Montana as we're seeing the end of adjudication? How do we develop this one stop shop for water users to be able to solve whatever problem they might have and creating the water court that can handle that? So, Senate Bill 72 will be heard in House Judiciary on Thursday morning. Farm Bureau is still in strong support. This bill has seen a few changes throughout its journey, but those changes just allow people to have a little bit more freedom of how they want to solve this problem. So people can go straight to the water court and they can handle those issues in a timely manner. If for whatever reason, people would rather handle these disputes in their district court, that's totally acceptable and that allows it in this bill. We would certainly encourage everyone to contact their legislator and let them know that they support it too. It a complex topic. Water is never easy so we encourage folks to reach out with any questions they might have. We are always happy to go into depth and explain that as well as there's a lot of resources that have already been published that go into detail about what this bill does and how it works.

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 randall.bogden@townsquaremedia.com


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