Mont. legislative session opens | TSLN.com

Mont. legislative session opens

Chelcie Cargill
Montana Farm Bureau Federation

The 66th Montana Legislature convened Monday, Jan.7 in Helena. While the session is still in its infancy, committees are beginning to meet and legislators are introducing their first bills of the term. We’ve hit the ground running.

If you read our last column, you’re already familiar with these important Legislative committees. This is where issues surface and begin the legislative process. Here are some key agriculture issues that were introduced in committee this week.

House Bill 63: Remove sunset date to extend financial liability for pesticide applicators

Sponsored by Rep. Ray Shaw (R) HD-71 / Sheridan: Heard in House Agriculture Committee, Thursday, Jan. 10.

This bill removes the sunset date in current law that gives rule-making authority for financial responsibility requirements of commercial pesticide applicators to the Department of Agriculture. The sunset was put in place during the 2017 Legislative Session to encourage the Department and stakeholders to find a new, acceptable solution for all involved parties before that deadline.

The current financial responsibility required by the Department in rule is incredibly outdated, requiring a $500 and $1500 bond for ground and aerial applicators, respectively. Montana Farm Bureau members’ policy supports requiring liability insurance in lieu of a bond, so we supported the bill under the condition that the final rule implemented by the Department replaces the bond requirement with a liability insurance requirement. MFBF has provided ample input to the Department of Agriculture on our position throughout the new rule making process.

The rules proposed by the Department last month did make this revision, but required a $500 deductible for the liability insurance. We raised our concern that the $500 deductible would make the insurance policies either outrageously expensive or nonexistent. The Department received our concern and plans to address it in the final rule they propose.

House Bill 43: Issuance of Free Elk Hunting Licenses and Permits to Landowners who offer free public elk hunting.

House Bill 104: Providing necessary license prerequisites for free to Landowners who receive a free combination license for cooperating in the Hunter Management Program.

Sponsored by Rep. Denley Loge (R) HD-14/St. Regis. Heard in House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee, Thursday, January 10.

Have you heard the term “use a carrot, not a stick” before? These bills are both about providing landowners with the “whole carrot” to incentivize public access for hunting, providing benefits to farmers, ranchers, and sportsmen alike. Our policy supports voluntary, incentive based initiatives with regard to hunter access and providing hunting licenses to landowners, so we were able to support both bills.

HB 43 will provide landowners who allow free public elk hunting with an either-sex or antlerless elk license and permit. Landowners will be granted one tag for every four public hunters they allow to hunt on their property and specifics will be outlined in a voluntary, contractual agreement with the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The landowner can give the tag to an immediate relative or employee, should he or she choose. Hunters will be selected through a random drawing of people who already hold the relevant tag in the corresponding hunting district.

HB 104 is a very simple, clean up type bill and was supported by agriculture and wildlife groups, alike. Under current law, a landowner who participates in the block management program is given combination sports license, free of charge. This provides a little extra incentive for landowners to participate in Block Management, a program which is very popular amongst sportsmen. This bill simply adds the inclusion of “necessary prerequisites” which are 1) the base hunting license, 2) an aquatic invasive species prevention pass and 3) a wildlife conservation license to make the package complete. Not including these prerequisites the first time was probably an oversight and adding them to current law is an appropriate step at this time.

As always, you can get more details on any bill we mention in this column by visiting http://www.leg.mt.gov/, then navigate to the LAWS database and do a search by bill number.

We’re here every day throughout the session, lobbying on our members’ behalf. Still, we hear consistently from legislators: YOUR voices matter the most in their decision making.

This process is important. Montana Farm Bureau has three opportunities for our members to get involved. These events include training on the legislative process, face time with your elected officials and agencies, and time to take in and participate in committee hearings. Take a day or two away from the farm or ranch to join us in Helena:

Jan. 31-Feb. 1 — Young Farmer and Rancher Calling on the Capitol: open to all YF&R members.

Feb. 12-13 — Council of Presidents: open to all county Farm Bureau presidents.

Feb. 27-28 — Counties Calling on the Capitol: open to all Montana Farm Bureau members.

Visit http://www.mfbf.org for more information. In the meantime, we’re here to be our members’ resource, and our priority is to connect you and your grassroots policies to the lawmakers who impact our livelihoods. Call or email any time to learn more.

–Montana Farm Bureau Federation