Legislative Update, week 9
By: Rachel Prevost and Kim Mangold
Bills that MFU supported last week:
- HJ 7 — St. Mary’s and Milk River Repair and Rehabilitation: MFU supports this resolution as this project is critical to all those that farm, live and work in Northern Montana. This resolution was heard and passed Executive Action in the House Agriculture Committee on Feb. 18. The resolution was heard in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation committee on March 9. This resolution is sponsored by Rep. Casey Knudsen. The committee will take executive action on the bill soon.
- HB 396 — Clarify hemp seed as commercial feed: This bill was heard in the House Agriculture committee on Feb. 23 and is sponsored by Rep. Josh Kassmier. Montana planted 22,000 acres of hemp last year. In this bill, we see the addition of being able to use hemp seed and products for pet food and explore using it for animal feed. This bill will allow this new market to be explored and potentially utilized. This bill passed out of the House and was heard in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation committee on March 11. We expect the committee to take executive action on the bill soon.
- SB 147 — Establish commercial property assessed capital enhancements program: This bill creates a financing program that would allow Montana producers to make energy efficiency upgrades to their property. Montana Farmers Union supports this bill because it encourages energy conservation practices and creates more jobs. This bill is sponsored by Sen. Mary McNally and was heard in Senate Energy and Telecommunications committee on Feb. 2. The bill was heard in the House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations committee on March 12.
Bills that MFU opposed last week:
- SB 211 — Revise local subdivision review criteria regarding agriculture: Montana Farmers Union opposes SB 211, as is written; it seems this bill takes away from local governments to protect farmland and ag soils in their county or city. If this bill passes it forces locals to ignore the impact of a subdivision on farm land and agricultural soils. We support protecting farmland and local control. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick and was heard on March 11 in House Local Government.
Bills coming up that MFU will support:
- SB 242 — Prohibit transfer of GPS data without permission: This bill would prohibit the sale of GPS data without permission. Montana Farmers Union policy states that “Storage and use of data should be strictly prohibited without the well-defined legal consent of individuals.” This bill was heard in Senate Judiciary on Feb. 19. The bill was amended to include prohibiting the sharing or transfer of the data also. The bill passed as amended out of committee on Feb. 23 and off the Senate floor. It will be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on March 24.
- SB 357 — Generally revising requirements related to telehealth: Montana Farmers Union supports making telehealth more accessible for rural Montanans and this bill helps increase access to telemedicine and telehealth and moves the state forward. This bill is sponsored by Sen. Jen Gross. This bill passed unanimously out of the Senate and will be transmitted to the House Human Services Committee on March 24.
- SB 288 — Revise property exemption for agricultural processing facilities: MFU supports SB 288 because it changes the property exemption from just applying to canola to all oilseed processing. This bill was heard in Senate Taxation and passed out of the Senate. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Walt Sales and will be heard in the House soon.
- SJ 11 — Resolution to provide a “Product of the USA” label for beef and pork born raised and processed in the United States: This will align with the current federal mandate enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. This bill was heard Feb. 23 and passed out of committee unanimously on Feb. 25. The resolution passed out of the Senate with a unanimous vote on the floor on March 1. We expect it to be heard in the House Agriculture committee soon. This resolution is a top priority for MFU, working with Sen. Ellie Boldman in the Senate and Rep. Willis Curdy in the House.
Bills that MFU will oppose this week:
- SB 199 — Provide for the Montana Local Food Choice Act: Montana Farmers Union opposes this bill because it would make harmful amendments to the current Cottage Food Act. We feel that the current Cottage Food Act works and it is a great example of collaboration from a variety of parties. This bill is sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz and was heard in Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety and passed out committee with amendments. This bill has passed out of the Senate and will be heard in the House Human Service committee on March 17.
- HB 336 — Interstate cooperative meatpacking compact. MFU supports the amendment that the sponsor added to the bill, and appreciates the intent of the bill. There are some concerns about putting Montana’s State Meat inspection program at risk through the bill so MFU opposes the bill. The bill is carried by Rep. Brandon Ler and was heard on Feb. 23 in the House Agriculture committee and the amended version passed out of committee on Feb. 25. The bill will be heard in the Senate Agriculture committee on March 16.
Action taken on bills MFU supported in the past 2 weeks:
- HB 235 — Create nutrition incentive program for SNAP participants: The Double SNAP Dollars program allows for Montanans who face food insecurity to afford more local fruit and vegetables. State investment would not only provide stability for current operating sites (participating farmers markets and farm share markets), but also allow the program to improve food security for vulnerable families and improve health outcomes. Montana Farmers Union supports this bill because it will boost local food systems and prevent food insecurity among vulnerable Montanans. This bill is sponsored by Rep. Tom Welch and was heard in the House Human Services committee on Feb. 3. Amendments have been put on the bill changing the dollar amount being asked from the state. The bill passed out of the House on March 11 and will be heard in the Senate soon.
Bills that MFU supported awaiting action:
- SB 285 — Provide gas and fuel tax refund for agriculture: This bill allows “An applicant whose use qualifies as agricultural use may apply for a refund of the applicable tax on the gallons of gasoline or special fuel as indicated by evidence of retail purchases as an estimate of off highway use.” Gasoline has been added. The bill was heard on Feb. 23 and is carried by Sen. Steve Hinebauch.
LC3225 — Establish a farm-to-school grant program at OPI: This bill would create a grant program administered through the Office of Public Instruction that would allow schools to curate locally grown and produced food for the school with Montana producers. Montana Farmers Union supports this bill because it boosts local food systems in Montana. The sponsor of this bill is Rep. Laurie Bishop. This bill is ready for delivery and we hope to see it introduced soon.