YOUR BOOTS ON THE HILL
By Rachel Cone and Nicole Rolf, Montana Farm Bureau Federation
Week four of the 68th Montana Legislature is working to accomplish the peoples’ business and we saw many bills continue their journey this week.
A Montana Farm Bureau member, Christy Clark, was confirmed by the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee to serve as Director for the Department of Agriculture (DOA). Her confirmation now move to the Senate floor for a full confirmation vote Clark, who Governor Gianforte appointed last January, has served the DOA since 2015 in a variety of roles such as deputy director, agricultural science administrator, and interim director.
This week we saw several bills supported by MFBF advance through the legislature, some without any opposition. HB 212 Increase business equipment tax exemption sponsored by Josh Kassmier (R) HD 27 which increases the business equipment tax exemptions from $300,000 to $1 million passed through the House Taxation Committee with no opposition, bringing this important legislation one step closer to helping small businesses acquire more or better equipment. Following its passage out of the Taxation Committee, the bill was referred to the House Appropriations Committee, where MFBF and many other business groups supported it in a hearing again this week. In the Appropriations Committee, the fiscal impact of the legislation is considered. After further vetting, we expect it to continue its advancement through the process.
Other bills that advanced this week include HB 245 Revise tax credit for trades education and training sponsored by Sue Vinton (R) HD 56. With around a quarter of farms and ranches in Montana hiring out-of-family labor, the tax credit provided by HB 245 gives these farms and ranches a great incentive to provide training and education to those workers while bringing in more jobs to rural communities.SB 58 Increase landowner payment cap for block management sponsored by Steve Hinebauch (R) SD 18 also advanced this week. With a proud heritage of hunting in Montana, SB 58 is set to continue to support that history by doubling the block management program cap from $25,000 to $50,000 giving landowners more incentive to provide sportsman access to more hunting land. SB 58 passed through the Senate Finance and Claims Committee without any opposition.
This week saw the first of what we expect could be several pieces of legislation regarding foreign ownership of agriculture land. SB 203 Revise law for transfer of critical infrastructure and agricultural land sponsored by Kenneth Bogner (R) SD 19 prevents an entity from selling, leasing or renting agricultural land to a “foreign adversary.” This year, several Montana Farm Bureau members shared their concerns over agricultural land being bought by foreign governments, particularly those with strained relations with the United States. We support this bill as it fits within our grassroots policy and represents our membership’s concern over the ownership of agricultural land by an adversary foreign government
Red Tape Removal. A big theme of the session has been reducing the regulatory burden for all Montanans. Many of the bills we have supported in the 2023 Session have been under the Administration’s “Red Tape Relief Project” and we are very thankful to each department that took an in-depth look at their various sections of Montana Code Annotated to review what is outdated or cumbersome.
The Department of Livestock (DOL) has presented many bills that remove outdated language. For example, HB 153: Generally revise laws related to livestock markets sponsored by Brandon Ler (R) HD 35 updates language in regards to livestock markets to include the use of online markets since today, online auctions are a common way to market livestock. Advances of new technologies should not be hindered by legislation that was developed many years ago and this is just one example of the DOL’s work in this project. MFBF supports this initiative and applauds the many who are making it possible.
The Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks have all brought forward bills of similar nature to update and modify legislation that benefits agriculture.
Water Rights. The Montana Comprehensive Water Review took place between the 2021 Legislative Session and the 2023 Legislative Session, focusing on two main key challenges: Final Decree Transition, and Changes, Mitigation and Exceptions. Through this process, two bills were created to address the challenges and both bills have strong support from Montana Farm Bureau.
Grizzly Bears. Montana Farm Bureau supported SB 85: Require management of delisted grizzly bears at sustainable levels sponsored by Mike Lang (R) SD 17. Removing grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List is of utmost importance to MFBF members. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has proven they are capable of properly managing grizzly bears and should be the primary manager of this species, not the federal government. This bill outlines how MT FWP will manage the bears after delisting and shows the federal agencies that Montana is more than ready to take back state management.