MSGA weighs in on Mont. legislative session | TSLN.com

MSGA weighs in on Mont. legislative session

The 64th Montana Legislative Session convened on Jan. 5th and during the first month of the 90-day session, Montana Stockgrowers has been engaging on several issues of great importance to the state's ranching community and landowners. As of the end of January, MSGA is monitoring more than 660 bills and more than 2,400 bills introduced or have requests submitted.

Early in the session, several bills introduced have touched on rule changes, administration of state programs, wildlife management, along with water and private property rights. MSGA continues to monitor many of these bills on behalf of its membership, testifying at bill hearings and working with legislators to raise awareness of our support or concerns during the process.

There are many prominent bills ahead during the 2015 Legislative Session that MSGA will be actively engaging in. MSGA continues working with the Department of Livestock regarding budget requests, which would include the request for general funding to support the Department's diagnostic lab in Bozeman. Over the past several months, many steps have been taken to make up for budget shortfalls, including raising brand inspection fees, per capita fees and diagnostic lab fees, along with reducing Department staff through not filling vacant positions, layoffs and employee furloughs. MSGA will continue representing the interest of rancher members as the DOL budget hearings move forward during the session.

One of the most prominent issues during the Legislative Session includes the Montana water compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, which was introduced during the first week of February by Senator Chas Vincent (R-Libby) as SB 262. This Compact was passed during a Jan. 12 meeting of the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission. The Compact must be ratified by the Montana Legislature and approved by the CSKT and U.S. Congress.

During their Annual Convention this past December, Montana Stockgrowers Association members passed policy to support a water rights compact with the CSKT. After a thorough legal analysis, MSGA announced support for the Compact, joining other agricultural groups in the state including Montana Farm Bureau Federation and Montana Water Resources Association. MSGA believes it important to protect historic water uses on and off the reservation and sees that the current Compact provides some certainty for all water right holders in Montana.

During the final week of January, MSGA hosted a Legislative Conference, which invited young ranchers from all corners of the state to Helena for the opportunity to learn more about the legislative process. In addition to learning about the issues MSGA engages in, participants had the opportunity to discuss the issues and ask questions of leadership from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Department of Natural Resources. Over 15 state legislators joined the group for breakfast where attendees were able to meet their representative and discuss important policies affecting their ranches.

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The young ranchers then traveled to the Capitol to attend committee hearings and had the pleasure of meeting U.S. Congressman Ryan Zinke after listening to his address in the joint session for the House and Senate. For most participants, this was their first opportunity to observe the legislative process in Helena.

Montana Stockgrowers will continue to represent its membership, acting according to policy passed by Association membership during the MSGA Annual Convention each December. MSGA continues to share information on activity throughout the session in a weekly podcast, online at mtbeef.org, and through social media sites, Facebook and Twitter. For more information about legislative activity affecting Montana ranchers, contact MSGA at (406) 442-3420.

–MSGA