News From the Front 2/3/2017
February 3, 2017
“A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”
The week according to Jeff…
Total number of Introduced Bills – 615
Total number of Introduced and Unintroduced Bills – 2571
Those numbers are as of Thursday.
Farmers and ranchers do the best they can to predict the weather, but it doesn’t always work well. Politicians have to explain their prediction outcomes to the public. Sometimes they suffer an election loss as a result. Farmers and ranchers have to explain their prediction outcome to the bank. Sometimes they suffer a harsher future.
Movers & Shakers this week
The news in this edition of NFTF begins with a report about the events occurring on Friday the 27th concerning SB 98, heard in front of the (S) Judiciary Committee. This bill establishes the Montana property fairness act. Immunities or liability waivers in Conservation District laws could be impacted by this bill, and there are concerns about impacts to the 310 law. There were three proponents and eight opponents for this bill. MACD will monitor this bill, and continue to try to analyze if and how it might impact Conservation Districts.
HB 344 is the identification number for the bill that would provide funding for the Coal Bed Methane Program over the next biennium, entitled: Revise funding for coal bed methane protection program. This bill is in direct response to the MACD resolution of the same topic, and will be heard in front of the House Natural Resources Committee on Monday, 6th January at 3:00 PM. Listen in if you’d like through your computer. The Coal Bed Methane Protection Committee has been notified. We do not know what DNRC’s position will be on this bill, as it is not in the Governor’s budget. A fiscal note has not yet been prepared for this bill.
MACD has taken a look at LC1470 http://leg.mt.gov/bills/2017/billpdf/LC1470.pdf. It appears that this bill tries to encourage DNRC’s RRGL program to be more likely to fund “source watersheds” than other projects, but it’s not clear. Source watershed are not defined in Title 85 or in any other part of the MCA. Don MacIntyre is preparing a review of this bill.
SR 20 is the bill to confirm John Tubbs as the Director of DNRC. MACD will be present to support Mr. Tubbs. No date for this hearing has been set. We suspect that a number of weeks will pass before the date is set.
SR 21 is the bill to confirm Tom Livers as the Director of DEQ. MACD will be present to support Mr. Livers. No date for this hearing has been set. We suspect that a number of weeks will pass before the date is set.
We do not have dates nor bills available for the directors of Fish, Wildlife and Parks or the Department of Agriculture. MACD has intentions to be at these hearings but we are still searching for background information about these two individuals. We were told that these hearings will be near the end of the Session.
Executive action for HB 14 remains scheduled for 8th and 9th of February, but those dates could change. Check their website for updates: http://leg.mt.gov/content/Publications/fiscal/subcommittees/2017-Subcommittee-Schedules/LongRangePlanning_Subcom_Schedule2017.pdf. Remember that there may be additional funds available to help with projects in this bill that did not make the cut off.
Executive action for HB2’s portion of DNRC’s operating budget is scheduled for Monday, 13th February. MACD plans to attend, but the audience is not allowed to participate.
HB 53 recently passed out of the (H) Natural Resources Committee on a 15-0 vote. On Monday this bill then passed the House floor on a 100-0 vote, and was referred to the Senate Natural Resources Committee. No hearing date has been set yet. This is a clean up bill proposed by DNRC. It is “AN ACT CLARIFYING THE PROCEDURE FOR CALCULATING LEVIES FOR CONSERVATION DISTRICTS.” This bill is expected to pass both houses and be signed by the governor.
HB 83 passed out of the (H) State Administration Committee, and cleared the floor of the House easily on a 71-25 vote. This is a clean up bill needed to address mistakes made in the 2015 Session’s giant election law revision that included Supervisor election changes. A hearing was held on Monday 30th January in (S) State Administration. MACD supported this bill. There were no opponents. The committee took no action. This bill is expected to pass both houses and be signed by the governor.
SB 39 is a cleanup bill: “AN ACT ELIMINATING NOTICE TO AND APPROVAL OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF CONSERVATION DISTRICT ORGANIZATION” This bill flew through the Senate on a 50-0 vote and will move into the House soon to be heard in front of the House Local Government Committee. This bill is expected to pass both houses and be signed by the Governor.
HB 305 revises the laws related to county bounties on predators. Basically, it gives the board of county commissioners authority to determine the dollar amount of the bounty to be paid on each predatory animal, and allows the board of county commissioners to appoint bounty inspectors in addition to those provided for in 81-7-112. The hearing was on 31st January, but MACD was unable to attend. I listened to the hearing on tape and noted that there were more supporters than opponents. I’ve included this bill in our list, as several Conservation Districts in past years have expressed interest in predator issues across Montana.
HJ 4 was heard in front of the House Taxation Committee. This bill would require a study of the Coal Tax Trust over the interim. As you know, Conservation Districts receive funds from this account, and will want to be part of discussions if there is a study. MACD did not testify in the House but will monitor this bill to see how it progresses. On 31st January HJ4 passed out of committee on a 19-1 vote. The bill is picking up steam and MACD will try to listen to the floor debate in the House and be at the next hearing in the Senate.
HB 104 passed on the floor of the House and was re-referred to the full House Appropriations Committee for a hearing. This bill was sent to Approps because it asks for money, and all those types of bills have to go through this funnel. This bill is “AN ACT CREATING THE GROUND WATER INVESTIGATION PROGRAM SPECIAL REVENUE ACCOUNT; PROVIDING A STATUTORY APPROPRIATION.” Jane Holzer is the Conservation District representative for this program. MACD President Jeff Wivholm was in town for the Meet and Greet and spoke in favor of this bill. There were no opponents. UPDATE: The House Appropriations Committee heard this bill and subsequently tabled it on 30th January. MACD will try to find out if it is being held until the new revenue estimates arrive, or if it is dead.
HB 107 passed on the floor of the House and was re-referred to the full House Appropriations Committee for a hearing. This bill was sent to Approps because it asks for money, and all those types of bills have to go through this funnel. This bill is “AN ACT CREATING A SURFACE WATER ASSESSMENT AND MONITORING PROGRAM; PROVIDING FOR A SURFACE WATER ASSESSMENT AND MONITORING PROGRAM SPECIAL REVENUE ACCOUNT; PROVIDING PROGRAM DUTIES; PROVIDING A STATUTORY APPROPRIATION.” MACD lobbied successfully earlier this year at the interim committee meetings to include a Conservation District representative on the steering committee of this program. If this bill passes, Conservation Districts will be asked to participate on the steering committee, and it’s not too early to start thinking about a name. MACD President Jeff Wivholm was in town for the Meet and Greet and spoke in favor of HB 107. There were no opponents. UPDATE: The House Appropriations Committee heard this bill and subsequently tabled it on 30th January. MACD will try to find out if it is being held until the new revenue estimates arrive, or if it is dead.
SB 93 was heard in front of the (S) Energy and Telecommunications Committee. This bill provides for notification at certain dwellings for oil and gas operations. I believe it was in 2015 that the Conservation Districts passed a resolution pertaining to notification issues. Although this is a bit different from the resolution, it pertains to notification issues and may be of interest to a number of Conservation Districts. MACD did not attend this hearing. This bill was amended by the committee and passed on a 8-5 vote. It’ll now move on to the House for consideration.
404 dredge-and-fill permitting program
SB 48 was amended and passed on a 9-2 vote out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Here are the new words: NEW SECTION. Section 3. Contingent effective date EFFECTIVE DATE — CONTINGENCY. [This act] is effective contingent on a U.S. supreme court order ON THE LATER OF: (1) JULY 1, 2019; OR (2) THE DATE THAT A U.S. SUPREME COURT ORDER IS ISSUED allowing the army corps of engineers and the environmental protection agency to enforce the final rule defining “waters of the United States,” as it reads in the Federal Register on June 29, 2015.
This bill directs DEQ to assume the 404 dredge-and-fill permitting program. Conservation Districts are still not mentioned in this bill. MACD has no position on this bill but is monitoring. My opinion: The amendments effectively postponed any action until July of 2019. What I’m hearing is that the Waters of the US rule will be negated in some manner by the new federal Administration. By 2019 I suspect that EPA will have another draft rule our for consideration. It’ll be something entirely different. If the Trump Administration in general passes responsibilities onto the states as some have suggested, Conservation Districts have to be at the table for any state discussions.
HB 281 is now listed as “probably dead.” This bill would have impacted pipeline stream crossings and was titled “Locate certain utilities over water.” This bill was scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday 25th January, but the sponsor withdrew the bill.
HB 228, a bill to provide funding for sage grouse stewardship, was heard in front of the House Natural Resources Committee. This bill would allow the unspent funds authorized at the 2015 Session for sage grouse to be carried forward for the next several years. MACD supported this program at the 2015 Session, and will continue to do so. There were many supporters and no opponents.
Remember that you are able to watch or listen to any hearing from your computer, either live hearings or hearings held days ago. Scroll through the Video and Audio – Session section at this link: http://leg.mt.gov/css/default.asp to find the appropriate committee.
IF YOU’D LIKE US TO TRACK A BILL THAT INTERESTS YOUR CONSERVATION DISTRICT, PLEASE SEND ME A NOTE AND I WILL INCLUDE IT IN THE NEXT EDITION. firstname.lastname@example.org
In other news…
There is lots of news in Washington, D.C. Here are a few items close to home.
This week a Senate committee voted 16-6 to approve Congressman Ryan Zinke’s confirmation in the new Cabinet. The full Senate will vote to confirm President Trump’s Department of the Interior cabinet nominee. The date of the full Senate vote has not yet been set.
Here is an update about Senator Daines’ committee assignments:
- Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry
- Senate Committee on Appropriations
- Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
- Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
- Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
All of these appointments could be of great value to the people and natural resources of Montana.
Senator Daines was appointed chairman of the Senate’s subcommittee on National Parks. This panel is responsible for the National Park System, Wild and Scenic River System, National Trails System, historic sites, military battlefields and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Daines also sits on the subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining, and Subcommittee on Energy. These subcommittees are part of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Senator Jon Tester recently met with Robert Lightizer, President Trump’s U.S. Trade Representative Nominee, to advocate for Montana’s top industries.
Tester told Lighthizer that a new Softwood Lumber Agreement is pivotal to ensuring long-term certainty for Montana’s lumber mills.
Canadian law is currently forcing U.S. wheat imports to be automatically downgraded to feed wheat, the lowest monetary wheat value, when entering the country. This Canadian wheat grading policy is causing Montana farmers to lose millions annually and the U.S. does not have similar restrictions on Canadian wheat imports. Tester urged Lighthizer to take steps to end this unfair trade practice and resolve the Canadian wheat grading discrepancy between the U.S. and Canada.
Tester pushed for assurance that the Trump Administration will seek new export markets for Montana’s agriculture producers. Tester emphasized to Lighthizer that the U.S. can agree to trade deals that protect workers and allow farmers and ranchers to sell their products overseas. Montana farmers and ranchers exported nearly $800 million in goods to countries in the Pacific Rim in 2014.
We’ve heard some unofficial news from the National Association of Conservation Districts national meeting. MACD Resolution 16-2 passed out of the legislative committee and will be part of the national association’s platform. Congratulations to Phillips Conservation District!
What to watch next week and beyond…
The pace of hearings will pick up steam again next week. Several have been scheduled, but there will be more as the days pass.
I am sure that there’ll be some more votes on bills that have already been through the hearing process. This is called “Executive Action,” and the fate of many bills depends on a positive vote. Look for any bills that get out of committees and contain expenditures to be held in the full Appropriations Committee until finances are more clear to the Legislature.
We’ve got our eyes on it…
If you wish to see our most current list of bills that we are monitoring, we’ve set up an account that will allow easy access to any of the bills we are tracking. There are more than 90 bills on this list. Go to this link:
Preference Account Login (login to an already established preference account)
Our User Name is MACD2017 and our Password is Conservation17
Once you get there, click on MACD Tracker to see the list. Comments and ideas are welcome. The details in that list change everyday.
Here are a few unintroduced bills that I highlighted, as they may be of interest to Conservation Districts. If details are available, you may find them with the MACD Tracker. Bills in red are related to current or past MACD Resolutions.
- LC736 – Generally revise laws related to infrastructure funding programs. We do not yet know what will be in this bill. However, there is a MACD resolution about infrastructure and this may be one to keep our eyes on. Currently this bill is on hold.
- LC1066 – Generally revise laws related to agricultural hemp. Hemp was a topic of a MACD resolution that did not pass. I listed it here as a matter of interest for those who voted in favor of the resolution. Currently this bill is on hold.
- LC1160 – Generally revise floodplain laws. This bill is a direct result of the MACD Resolution of the same topic. This draft is on hold but is expected to move into the stream soon. MACD is having continuous meetings with the sponsor, DNRC, and several Conservation District Supervisors about this bill.
- LC1916- Revise funding for Growth Through Agriculture. Conservation Districts share a funding source with this program. If it’s changed, does it impact us? We have to keep watching. This bill is currently being drafted.
- LC2119- Establish a pilot program for energy production future and environmental stewardship. This bill establishes a pilot program and directs DNRC to evaluate and design an energy production future pilot program to allow Montana farmers, foresters, and ranchers to be compensated for undertaking targeted best practices to improve water, soil, grassland, and forest quality. We’ve heard unofficially that this bill will be withdrawn.
- LC2250- Enact protections for Yellowstone River. MACD sent a separate note to the two river councils to ask for their help in monitoring this bill. We also visited with the sponsor at the Meet and Greet.
- LC2317- Study bill regarding aluminum can recycling deposit and refund program. This might be of interest as a follow up from a MACD resolution several years ago brought forth by Yellowstone Conservation District. This bill is being drafted.
- LC2323- Provide funding for the St. Mary irrigation rehabilitation project. This bill could be related to the MACD infrastructure bill that passed in 2016. This bill is being drafted.
You can look at each of these bills to see details on the MACD Tracker.
If you’d like us to track a bill that interests your conservation district, send me an email and I’ll include it in the next edition of NFTF. email@example.com
Lend us a hand…
Talk to Legislators anytime you get a chance. Your local contact makes a great difference in the Capitol.
Thanks to all of you who are reading this report. Contact me with comments or questions firstname.lastname@example.org or 406.465.8813. We appreciate your support in this endeavor, and for helping to keep Montana.