By Rachel Cone and Nicole Rolf, Montana Farm Bureau Federation
The 68th Montana Legislative Session is in full swing and the halls of the Montana Capitol are once again filled with legislators, lobbyists, media, constituents and many others. Time has flown since the last Session adjourned and we are happy to be back in-person representing Montana’s farmers and ranchers. Here is what our focus has been to date:
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to each department that took an in-depth look at their various sections of Montana Code Annotated to review what is outdated or cumbersome.
The Department of Livestock (DOL) has presented many bills that remove outdated language.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.
SB 72: Revise judicial administration of water rights sponsored by Steve Fitzpatrick (R) SD 10, is a bill that creates a one-stop shop to administer water now that final decrees are being issued. It protects local knowledge and control by relying on four water division judges who specialize in water law. Without the bill, there is no deadline or limit on who can petition to revoke or reduce a provisional permit. SB 72 protects Senior Water Right holders and creates a stronger and more efficient process. This bill is incredibly important to agriculture and is one of the most impactful pieces of water legislation in 40 years. We encourage all members to engage with their legislators, asking them to support this bill.
HB 114: Revise timelines for water right permit and change process sponsored by Sue Vinton (R) HD 56 provides more timely and efficient water right permit and change application processes. This bill reduces overall process timeframes from 360 days to 105 days with a pre-application meeting if no extension, deficiencies or comments are filed. Putting these sideboards on time ensures that all water users can get through their change or permit in a more streamlined manner.
Taxation. Along with red tape relief, the Administration has continued their commitment to provide broad-based tax relief with SB 121: Reduce top marginal income tax rate and increase EITC sponsored by Becky Beard (R) SD. This bill lowers the top income tax rate from 6.5% to 5.9%. Readers may recall that the Montana Legislature lowered the income tax rate in 2021. SB 121 continues the reduction and Montana Farm Bureau supports this effort.
Montana Farm Bureau also supported HB 212: Increase business equipment tax exemption sponsored by Josh Kassmier (R) HD 27 which increases the business equipment tax exemption for class eight property from $300,000 to $1 million. This legislation is particularly beneficial to farmers, ranchers and other businesses that require a great deal of equipment or machinery. Reducing the business equipment tax incentivizes more small business owners to invest in more or better equipment that ultimately helps them be more productive. For farmers and ranchers, this gives them an opportunity to upgrade equipment and invest in their local communities.
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.