Farm Bureau to Follow Legislature Closely
By Nicole Rolf and Rachel Cone
The 67th Montana Legislature convened Jan. 4 in Helena. For those who follow the process from home, this year’s mixed-format session, or “hybrid”, will offer an opportunity for remote and virtual participation in the lawmaking process.
In addition to giving legislators the choice between participating in person or from a remote location, the option to testify through electronic means opens the doors for farmers and ranchers from remote corners of our state to participate, regardless of winter feeding, calving or inclement weather. In this, our first weekly Boots on the Hill column, we’ll outline how you can participate.
For Montana Farm Bureau lobbyists working in Helena, this session comes with many changes. COVID-19-related precautions mean each committee will meet a little differently than usual, but they have put protocols in place to carry out the important work of the people and still allow public input. Depending on the size of the room in which the committee meets, they may allow a limited number of non-committee members into the room to testify and watch from the audience. In smaller meeting rooms, members of the public are allowed inside to testify and then exit the room because limited space does not allow seating. Committees are also hearing testimony virtually.
Much of the legislative process remains the same, especially for folks who do not usually spend time in Helena. Anyone can visit the Legislative webpage, leg.mt.gov/, to find a listing of your elected officials, to view all the bills that have been introduced and to track where the bills are in the legislative process. What’s unique this year is the button in the middle of the website’s home page: “Request to testify remotely/testify remotely.” Though this portal, you can locate the bill you are interested in following and submit written testimony or schedule a virtual testimony. These must be scheduled 24 hours in advance. You can also call the Legislative Hotline to leave messages for legislators at (406) 444-4800.
While it is important to have a relationship with your own legislators, they may not be on the committee that most pertains to issues you care about. You may wish to familiarize yourself with legislators who serve on relevant committees including but not limited to: agriculture, natural resources, fish and wildlife and taxation.
We have started tracking bills and testifying on behalf of our farming and ranching members. Each week for the next 90 days, you can look for our update on bills we’re working, as directed by the Farm Bureau member-written policy we represent.
Here’s the first bill we’re supporting this Session:
Senate Bill 65: Revise civil liability laws, introduced by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick (R), SD10. Farm Bureau member policy supports. This bill limits liability to the owners of a premise if a person comes there and is infected with COVID-19, as long as that owner was not negligent. This bill is primarily intended to protect business owners, which would of course include farms and ranches.
Nicole Rolf is the Director of National Affairs and a rancher from Miles City, Montana. Nicole works closely with our Congressional delegation on national issues affecting Montana agriculture. Additionally, this is her seventh Montana Legislative Session, lobbying in Helena on behalf of MFBF members. She also works as the Eastern Montana Regional Manager. Nicole can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rachel Cone is the Director of State Affairs for Montana Farm Bureau Federation. She also coordinates the MFBF Water Committee, the Resource Management, Environment and Technology Committee and the Livestock Committee in addition to being the Treasurer for the Farm Bureau PAC. Rachel can be contacted at email@example.com.