Montana Stockgrowers Association Legislative Report
The 65th Legislature has reached the half way point and from the Montana Stockgrowers Association’s (MSGA) view, it has been a successful start for agriculture in Montana. MSGA continues to take a leading role in representing the livestock industry during the legislature and works closely with other agricultural groups to ensure our industry will continue to be the number one economic driver for the state.
The Senate finished its business on Friday, February 24th and the House a few days later on March 1st. The Session has reached the transmittal break, where general bills must be passed to the other chamber in order to continue through the legislative process.
Going into this legislative session, MSGA’s number one priority was to work with the Department of Livestock (DOL) to develop a structurally balanced budget and ensure the Department was maintained as a standalone agency. Thus far, the DOL has successfully provided an in-depth analysis of its budget before the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Transportation. The committee took executive action on February 17th; the budget moved forward as presented.
MSGA has been actively involved in numerous livestock specific legislation over the first 45 days. MSGA supported both SB 73, which extends the Montana livestock loss program until 2023, and HB 256, which includes specific criteria for what qualifies as a legal electric fence.
One bill that would have negatively impacted the livestock industry in Montana was HB 419. This bill would have removed the provision that requires bison be certified by the state veterinarian as brucellosis-free before transport. This would have put livestock at risk of exposure to brucellosis outside of the Designated Surveillance Area. MSGA aggressively opposed this bill, it was tabled in committee.
In addition to livestock bills, SB 203 would have had a significant impact on agriculture. If passed it would have allowed for animals that have been seized by law enforcement under suspicion of animal cruelty to be sold before the owner is convicted. MSGA worked with Senator Eric Moore to oppose this bill, which ultimately failed on the Senate floor.
MSGA also opposed HB 243, which prohibited outfitting on inaccessible state lands. This would have levied a fine on the grazing lessee of no less than $500/section for allowing access to these parcels. This bill, like attempts in previous sessions, was tabled in committee.
There have been two pieces of legislation addressing the spread of noxious weeds in the state. HB 126 revises the Montana Pesticides Act to generate additional revenue for the Department of Agriculture to administer the noxious weed program. More importantly, this bill will maintain Montana State University Extension as the lead in farm pesticide applicator certification and training programs in the state. The second bill, HB 434, creates the Montana Wildlife Habitat Improvement Act. This program will be administered by Fish, Wildlife and Parks, utilizing federal Pitman-Robertson funds. The grants will be used fight the spread of noxious weeds and improve wildlife habitat.
During the first half of the session, MSGA has supported a number of water related bills that will benefit agriculture. HB 110 ensures water right holders can file their stock water claims and have them included in final water adjudication. HB 368, eliminates the 500’ setback requirement of a well from a lagoon; allowing for the setback distance to be between 100’ and 500’, based upon soil conditions and elevation. HB 339 is a compromise bill on exempt wells, it balances senior water rights and the needs of the development industry.
Although there are still some major funding issues, such as the finalizing the state budget and infrastructure demands, agriculture has maintained a strong presence and is well positioned as the Legislative Session moves toward adjournment in April.