News From the Front, March 24

Dear Readers:

One of the Conservation District Administrators called NFTF “calm,” a word that I had not thought of as pertinent to any legislative process, even the first day.

The Session is swirling with much uncalmness, a word that I may have just invented because it has that squiggly red line under it as I type. I noticed a touch of stress in recent days in the Capitol at certain hearings. That stress may have been built further upon by the floor debate on HB 2, the state’s massive $10 billion spending bill that operates most of state government. Anytime the Legislature talks about money there is conflict. But those 150 people have a job to do, and they are working diligently to have their assignments done on time. You have to have a good work ethic to survive and thrive in Montana. It is an honor for me to be able to work with many of these women and men as they make very difficult decisions that impact many people’s lives. Please think of the many, many good people who are interested in what is best for Montana, and do not dwell on the ones that make you upset.

To put things in perspective, I copied vote totals from a random day on the House floor. Look at the margins for the vast majority of votes. You likely only hear about the fights because it makes headlines. The editors of newspapers sometimes operate under the”If it bleeds, it leads.” approach. Consider:

Bill NumberForAgainst
HB 134990
SB 8982
SB 20991
SB 58991
SB 795644
SB 811000
SB 103946
SB 121991
SB 127990
SB 1517822

On 16th March I attended the confirmation hearing for Mr. Ben Thomas, the newly appointed Director of the Montana Department of Agriculture. The Conservation Districts were notified a couple of days prior so they could listen in if they had time and were so interested. He left a very good impression on the Senate Agriculture Committee (11-0 vote in favor), and will easily be confirmed by the full Senate. After listening to him speak, looking at his background, and listening to the proponents, I’d state that I think we have a potential superstar. As the state’s number one industry, agriculture needs a superstar in that position to take Montana to the future, or what some have called the “Undiscovered Country.”  Mr. Thomas grew up on a farm in West Texas, and learned the value of hard work, according to his mother. His mother and father drove up from Texas to attend the hearing, and she testified in support of her son. Mr. Ben Thomas might be one to consider as a speaker at the next MACD convention.

I hope I’m right about my observations. There’s a lot of upside potential in agriculture, there are many changes coming in the near future, and we need a very strong leader.

We are waiting for many of our bills to get out of committees. Some are moving, as seen below. This was another crazy week, with plenty of hearings The hearings should slow down soon, we hope.

 

Total number of Introduced Bills – 1128

Total number of Introduced and Unintroduced Bills – 2596

 

Those numbers are as of Thursday. Note that things are changing so quickly that what you read here may be different than reality.

As the Session moves forward, I’ll be able to eliminate some of the bills that we are following. They’ll either pass or die.  I know that this report is long, but if I leave out a bill that only one particular Conservation Districts has an interest in, I hear about it fairly quickly. Then there are the new bills…

New Bills

Here are a few new bills of interest, and one bill that may be introduced soon. One of these bills (SB 363) includes an IRRIGATED FARMLAND FEE of $25 to help with costs associated with controlling Aquatic Invasive Species. We do not know the details of the fee and will not until the fiscal note is published.  WE NEED TO HEAR FROM CONSERVATION DISTRICTS WITH THEIR THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BILL. In the past, Districts have expressed concern about the AIS problem via resolution. We know that there is a problem that needs to be addressed, and we’d like to be part of the solution. We need input from the Conservation Districts. DNRC will support this bill.  

 

SB 363 is a new bill that tries to comprehensively address funding the AIS issues facing Montana. It is “AN ACT REVISING LAWS RELATED TO AQUATIC INVASIVE SPECIES; PROVIDING REVENUE SOURCES TO PREVENT AND CONTROL AQUATIC INVASIVE SPECIES; ESTABLISHING THE NONRESIDENT AQUATIC INVASIVE SPECIES DECAL; ESTABLISHING A FEE FOR BOAT VALIDATION DECALS; ESTABLISHING A HYDROELECTRIC FACILITY FEE; ESTABLISHING AN IRRIGATED FARMLAND FEE; ALLOCATING REVENUE…” It looks like everyone associated or that could be associated with AIS is on the list to help with revenue production, including those with irrigated farmland. The Executive has estimated that more than $10 million is needed over the biennium to aggressively manage the AIS threat. As of this writing, SB 363 does not have a fiscal note, and we do not know the revenue estimates by source. The hearing is scheduled for 24th March and will be reported on in next week’s edition of NFTF.

 

SPECIAL NOTE: At least two other AIS bills popped up overnight and we do not have enough time to review them for this edition of NFTF.

 

HB 587 is a bill that would provide for certified prescribed burning. It was tabled in committee, making it the only bill that was born and died the same week. HISTORY: This bill would allow DNRC to “authorize certified prescribed burning for purposes of:  (a) removing a fire hazard to any property;  (b) preparing seedbeds; (c) removing obstructions to or interference with seeding, agricultural use, grazing, or other uses of that land;  (d) promoting the establishment of new forest crops on cutover, denuded, or underproductive lands;  (e) implementing pest prevention and suppression activities; or (f) promoting improvements to forest health, including improvements to fish and wildlife habitat.”

This bill was heard on 20th March in front of the House Natural Resources Committee. Ruby Valley Conservation District and Mile High Conservation District both support this bill. They came to Helena to testify in favor. The committee took no action.

 

SJ 19  is a resolution asking the federal government to remove brucella abortus from the federal list. The “Whereases” explain the bill:  WHEREAS, Brucella abortus is listed as a potential bioterrorist agent or “select agent” by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and WHEREAS, in order to eradicate Brucella abortus in cattle and domestic bison, a vaccine must be developed that is effective, but because research on select agents is highly regulated and requires costly investments in secure infrastructure, the number of facilities that are able to perform research on the pathogen in large animals has been greatly reduced; and WHEREAS, because Brucella abortus is listed as a select agent it cannot be brought inside for the studies that could lead to an effective vaccine, which is an absurd situation for veterinary research facilities in the region. MACD supported this resolution in the 2015 Session, but it did not go anywhere. It passed the Senate 50-0, and now has to get through the House.

 

LC2389 is being drafted and reportedly tries to help address the AIS issue. It’s a bill to keep an eye on, but we do not know how it could mesh with SB 363. Currently there is no text available on the Legislator’s website.

 

Not so new bills

 

HB 405 is a bill to revise election laws applicable to local governments. It passed out of committee on a 9-0 vote and was debated on the floor of the Senate, where it passed 50-0. It’ll now head the the Governor’s Office for consideration. HISTORY: MACD worked with the sponsor, the bill drafter, the committee chairwoman, the sponsor of a companion bill (HB 83 seen below) that meshed with HB 405, the Montana Association of Counties (MACo), Laurie Zeller at DNRC, and Don MacIntyre to find a way to amend this bill so it did not impact Conservation Districts. Three different approaches were attempted, with agreement reached on Friday before the hearing. In a nutshell, the bill as written would have placed County Commissioners in the position of appointing a Conservation District Supervisor when there was no candidate running for election to that vacancy. A hearing was held on 13th March for this bill in front of the Senate Local Government Committee. MACD and the Montana Association of Counties both testified in favor of this bill as amended. There were no opponents. The committee took no action.

We heard that at least one District was upset about this bill, perhaps thinking that it was a power move on someone’s part. The District wanted to know more details. I included the word “unintentional” in last week’s NFTF. We confirmed with all involved that the glitch was indeed an innocent technical mistake and no evil was involved. HISTORY: HB 405 is a bill to revise laws applicable to local government.  It appears that there is an unintended technical glitch in the bill that would negatively impact Conservation Districts. MACD is working with Don MacIntyre and Laurie Zeller to address this problem.

 

SJ 5 is a resolution to study coal phaseout. The study would be conducted during the interim. It has not yet been debated on the floor of the House. HISTORY:  This bill previously passed out of the Senate easily, was heard in the House Energy Committee on 10th March, and passed on a 15-1 vote. As you know, Conservation Districts heavily depend on coal revenues to help fund our programs. Should this resolution pass both houses, Conservation Districts need to follow what happens to this resolution during the interim. If SJ 5 passes, it would likely be discussed during the interim in the Energy and Telecommunications Committee. This would pop up the number of interim committees that MACD has to staff during the 19 months between Sessions. Perhaps the most important message about this bill that I’d like to pass to you is this: If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. I’ll end this paragraph with one interesting observation that I heard from a legislator: “Coal dust is sprinkled on almost every program run by the State of Montana.”  

 

HB 401 is a bill that would revise local government and school district campaign reporting laws. It is still waiting for a committee vote. HISTORY: This bill tries to exempt low spenders, or I should say no spenders: “A CANDIDATE OR POLITICAL COMMITTEE IS EXEMPT FROM THE PROVISIONS IF THE CANDIDATE OR POLITICAL COMMITTEE DOES NOT RECEIVE ANY CONTRIBUTIONS OR MAKE ANY EXPENDITURES, NOT INCLUDING THE CANDIDATE’S FILING FEE, IN A CAMPAIGN.” I suspect that very few Supervisors spend much if any money to run for their positions. However, this bill is worth tracking. In a recent conversation with the Montana Association of Counties, we were told that this bill does pertain to Conservation District Supervisors. This bill passed the House and will be heard in front of the Senate State Administration Committee on 22nd March.

 

SB 278 is a bill to revise local government selection procedures for professional services. It passed out of committee on a 22-0 vote, and will be debated on the floor of the House soon. We predict that it will pass and be signed into law by the Executive. HISTORY: This bill would modify this section of law: “In the procurement of architectural, engineering, and land surveying services, the agency may encourage firms engaged in the lawful practice of their profession to submit annually or biennially a statement of qualifications and performance data.” It was heard in front of the House Local Government Committee on 14th March. MACD President Jeff Wivholm testified in support of this bill. The bill would help urban Conservation Districts in particular, as they are more likely to have larger projects that need these services. According to our partners, It will raise the conservation district’s ability to enter into direct negotiations with an engineering firm for amounts under $50,000 instead of the current $20,000…conservation districts would view this as a good thing since it makes the procurement process quicker — at least for hiring engineering services. The other authority to allow a local government to enter into agreements for multiple projects over a period of time is something they already do.” This bill previously passed the Senate handily.

 

SB 338  is a bill to revise laws related to closure of certain coal-fired generation. HISTORY: This bill may generate funds for the State of Montana. Some of the funds could be made available to Conservation Districts to carry out our responsibilities, especially those around Colstrip. A hearing was held on 16th March in front of the Senate Energy and Telecommunication Committee. The committee has yet to act.

 

SB 151 is an “AN ACT REVISING INTERIM COMMITTEES and CREATING A LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE.” It passed the floor of the House on a 78-22 vote, and will move to the Governor’s Office for consideration. We predict that it will become law. HISTORY: This bill passed the floor of the Senate on 23rd February on a 42-8 vote. It was heard in the House Legislative Administration Committee on 14th March, and came out with a unanimous vote. That likely means that it will pass the floor of the House and be sent to the Governor’s Office for consideration. HISTORY: SB 151 came out of Senate Local Government Committee on a 7-0 vote, indicating bipartisan support. It’ll be debated on the floor on 23rd February, too late for a report in this edition of NFTF. It is not clear if Conservation Districts will be included in the affairs of this interim committee, since we fit in a couple of categories. However, this will be another committee that needs to be monitored during the interim. MACD will have to pay attention to the agendas and attend the interim committee meetings when something that may impact Conservation Districts is considered. Assuming this bill passes, this will be the fourth interim committee that MACD will be monitoring during the 18 months between Sessions.  

 

HB 344, the coalbed methane committee funding bill, was heard in front of the Senate Natural Resources Committee on 22nd March. Don Sasse traveled to Helena and testified in favor of this bill, as did MACD. There were many questions from the committee members. DNRC did not support this bill, but testified as an informational witness. The sponsor remains optimistic that the bill will be passed by the committee. We’ve been told that the Executive most likely will sign this bill if it gets out of the Legislature. HISTORY: This bill has a hearing scheduled at 3:00 PM on 22nd March in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. MACD is working with the Coal Bed Methane Committee and DNRC to prepare for the hearing. HISTORY: HB 344 will likely be assigned to the Senate Natural Resources Committee. HISTORY: HB 344 continues its miracle progress. This bill reminds me of the Olympic Jamaican Bobsled Team – improbable but moving fast. It passed out of the full Appropriations Committee on a 22-0 vote (!) on 22nd February. It was debated on the floor of the House on Thursday afternoon and passed quite easily, 97-2. It now moves to the Senate for consideration. Congratulations and thanks to Judi Knapp and Don Sasse, as well as the full CBM Committee, for their efforts to keep this moving. Special kudos goes to Representative Geraldine Custer for sponsoring the bill and providing expert guidance. The story behind this cat and dog (see definition by using link below) bill amazes me.  Remember Yogi, however. “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  Yogi Berra

HISTORY: HB 344 is picking up steam. It came out of committee on a 14-1 vote, and was debated on the floor of the House on Saturday, 18th February. It passed on a 97-3 vote, but was re-referred to the full House Appropriations Committee for review. The sponsor was concerned about this bill until the funding source changed. Now she is more optimistic. The fact remains that this bill has funds attached and any bills with dollars are under great scrutiny right now. We remain positive, however, as the sheer number of affirmative votes has meaning. Note that the source of funding has shifted to the ORPHAN SHARE STATE SPECIAL REVENUE ACCOUNT ESTABLISHED IN 75-10-743. That is better than seeking funds from the General Fund.  HISTORY: HB 344 is the number for the bill that would provide $190,000 of general fund dollars 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. It was heard in front of the House Natural Resources Committee on Monday, 6th January. The Coal Bed Methane Protection Committee sent Don Sasse to testify on their behalf. MACD testified in support of this bill.  DNRC testified as an informational witness, no doubt because the funds requested in the bill are not in the Governor’s budget. There were many questions from the committee about the program. There were no opponents, but there were a few negative comments from members of the audience afterwards about our testimony.

 

To understand a cat and dog bill, see:  http://leg.mt.gov/content/publications/fiscal/interim/financecmty_june2000/program_xfer_6_2000.pdf

 

HB 2 is the giant funding bill for most of state government, including funds for Conservation Districts. It passed on the floor of the House and was sent to the Senate for their consideration. The hearing is scheduled for Monday, 27th March, in front of the Senate Finance and Claims Committee. HISTORY: This bill was debated on the floor of the House on Thursday and Friday, too late for inclusion in NFTF. The full House Appropriations Committee considered DNRC’s budget on 7th March. HISTORY: Executive action for DNRC’s operating budget ( HB 2)  occurred in the (H) Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Transportation on 20th February. MACD attended, but the audience is not allowed to participate in the committee discussions unless asked by a member of the committee. That is most often a rare occurrence. The committee is close to making its recommendations to the full Appropriations Committee for their consideration and may have sent them over by the time you read this. We expect the recommendations to head to that committee soon. MACD President Jeff Wivholm and MSCA’s Jane Holzer were in town to attend the meeting.

 

SB 313, the floodplain bill, was amended and passed out of committee with a 12-0 vote. DNRC had previously opposed this bill, but spoke during Executive Action in positive terms of the amended change from “exemption” to “variance.” DNRC reportedly sent a letter to FEMA to encourage them to work with the State of Montana on this issue. This bill will be sent to the floor of the Senate for debate. HISTORY: This bill has no action since the last NFTF. However, there is an amendment that will ask for a “variance” instead of an “exemption.” We do not know when the amendment will be considered.  HISTORY: SB 313: Contrary to what was initially reported on www.leg.mt.gov about this bill, and unfortunately repeated in NFTF, it was not approved by the Senate Natural Resources Committee at the end of their hearing. It appears there was an error reading the bill numbers and the vote was transposed. The bill was, however, amended to include a revenue component so that the transmittal deadline for general bills did not apply to it. The committee did this so that they may spend a bit of time on this bill to see if they can change it to make it better.  HISTORY: SB 313 is a bill to exempt stream restoration from floodplain permits. This bill is a direct result from a 2015 MACD resolution that may be seen here. Here’s the meat of the bill:  “(3) The rules must include but are not limited to the establishment of: (a) an exemption for stream restoration projects up to 1,000 linear feet in size; (b) criteria for an exemption that includes a maximum size for a stream restoration project more than 1,000 linear feet based on the characteristics of the stream, including volume; and (c) a minimum distance a stream restoration project must be located from the nearest flood-insured property to be eligible for an exemption, based on the characteristics of the stream, the flood history of the stream, and the characteristics of the surrounding property.” This bill was heard in front of the Senate Natural Resource Committee on Wednesday, 22nd February. There were 5 proponents and 2 opponents, including DNRC. The sponsor, Senator Jon Sesso from Butte, is a floodplain coordinator in his “day job.” He did a very good job explaining the idea, with help from Conservation District Supervisors Jeff Ryan and John Moodry. My perception was that the committee generally supported what Senator Sesso wanted to do with this bill, and will seek ways to make it work.

 

HB 540 – another AIS bill, was tabled. It appears that some​ of the elements in that bill will be in a new AIS bill coming out.  HISTORY: HB 540 is a bill that addresses AIS oversight by creating management based on water basins.

 

HB 368, the lagoon setback bill, was heard in front of the Senate Natural Resources Committee on 22nd March. MACD supported this bill. DNRC and DEQ opposed this bill because it was amended in the House and they could not accept the amendments. The committee asked the sponsor and the Executive to work something out. We are optimistic that it will move to the floor of the Senate for debate, but it likely will be amended again, this time by this committee. MACD would support the original bill or the amended version. HISTORY: This bill will be heard in front of the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, 22nd March. MACD will support this bill. HISTORY: HB 368 passed third reading on the floor of the House on a 94-6 vote. It was transmitted to the Senate for their consideration, and referred to the Senate Natural Resources Committee. HB 368 was amended, came off the table on a 9-6 vote, and was debated on the floor of the House on 28th February. The House approved the bill on a 92-8 vote. It’ll pass third reading and will move to the Senate for consideration. HISTORY: HB 368 was tabled in committee. However, there is currently an effort to amend it, get it back off the table, and in front of the members for reconsideration. Time is running out, however.  MACD will continue to monitor this bill. HISTORY:  HB 368 would establish setbacks between wells and lagoons. It’s titled: “AN ACT ESTABLISHING SETBACKS BETWEEN SEWAGE LAGOONS AND WATER WELLS; EXTENDING DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY RULEMAKING AUTHORITY; PROVIDING A RULEMAKING EXCEPTION; ELIMINATING THE PROHIBITION ON LOCATING SEWAGE LAGOONS WITHIN 500 FEET OF A WATER WELL.” The existing law prohibits having wells and lagoons closer than 500 feet from each other. This number was not based on science and does not fit all situations. The bill would allow DEQ to write administrative rules to better cover the varied situations that occur across Montana. A number of people, including our partners at NRCS, have had issues with the existing statute and lack of flexibility. MACD, as well as many other agricultural and natural resource groups, supported this bill at a hearing in front of the House Natural Resources Committee. The committee has taken no action.  

 

There was movement on HB 14, HB 6 and HB 7, the DNRC grant bills. A hearing for HB 14 has been set for 24th March, but it looks like it is being disassembled. Listening to the HBs 6 & 7 testimony heard on 20th March in the House Appropriations Committee, we see that HB 14 will be altered significantly. All 93 RRGL projects have been moved from HB 14 to HB 6, without enough dollars to fund them all. However, the lump sum grant programs remain in this bill. HB 6 grant funding still includes: (1) $100,000 for emergency projects to be awarded by the department over the course of the biennium;  (2) $800,000 for planning grants to be awarded by the department over the course of the biennium; (3) $300,000 for irrigation development grants to be awarded by the department over the course of the biennium; (4) $300,000 for watershed grants to be awarded by the department over the course of the biennium; and (5) $50,000 for private grants to be awarded by the department over the course of the biennium. Conservation Districts have received funds from HB 6 over the years, and are expected to do so again in the future.

 

HB 7 was also amended to include the RDG grant project proposals previously in the now disassembled HB 14. Cash was added to fund projects, but it appears that there is not enough cash to fund them all. However, bonds may be used to fund additional projects if a bonding bill passes. Stay tuned for new developments. These funds also remain in the bill: (1) $800,000 for grants for planning reclamation and development projects to be awarded by the department over the course of the biennium; and (2) $500,000 to implement measures to control invasive aquatic species in state waters.

HJ 9, the resolution supporting the release of certain wilderness study areas, will be heard on Monday, 27th March, in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. HISTORY: HJ 9 previously passed the House and is headed to the Senate Natural Resources Committee for their consideration. We heard from a Supervisor interested in supporting this resolution. MACD is researching the details for her, but it appears that HJ 9 does not include the BLM areas near the Musselshell that she mentioned. HISTORY: HJ 9  is a resolution supporting the release of certain wilderness study areas. Over the decades Conservation Districts have had resolutions about wilderness areas. If one of these Study Areas is in your Conservation District, I recommend that you read this resolution and let us know your thoughts.   “(1) West Pioneer Wilderness Study Area comprising approximately 151,000 acres;

    (2) Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area comprising approximately 61,000 acres;

    (3) Sapphire Wilderness Study Area comprising approximately 94,000 acres;

    (4) Ten Lakes Wilderness Study Area comprising approximately 34,000 acres;

    (5) Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area comprising approximately 81,000 acres;

    (6) Big Snowies Wilderness Study Area comprising approximately 91,000 acres; and

  (7) Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area comprising approximately 151,000 acres.”

HJ 9 passed on the floor of the House 55-44 on Tuesday, 28th February.

 

HJ 15, the resolution urging the delisting of grizzly bears, was heard by the Senate Fish and Game Committee on 21st March. The committee has taken no action to date. HISTORY: HJ 15 is a resolution urging the delisting of grizzly bears. I’ve heard from a number of Supervisors over the years about this issue, especially from those of you along the Rocky Mountain Front, and included this resolution as a FYI. HJ 15 passed on the House floor 63-37 on Tuesday, 28th February.

 

HB 337, a bill requiring DNRC to prepare a report in 2026 about water reservations, was heard in front of the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Friday, 10th March. The committee passed the bill on a 10-2 vote, and it passed the full Senate 48-0. This bill will be sent to the Governor’s Office for consideration. HISTORY: HB 337 is flying. It passed second reading in the House 100-0, and will move to the Senate Natural Resources Committee for consideration, likely after the transmittal date. HISTORY: HB 337 is a bill that would require DNRC to prepare a report in 2026 about water reservations. As you know, Conservation Districts have a number of water reservations* for both the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers. This report was prepared in 2016 by DNRC, and some of you will remember a bit of controversy that accompanied the report. Many of us will not be in the office when the 2026 report is prepared, but for those who plan to be please mark your calendars. Here is the meat of the requirement:  “…the department shall, at least once every 10 years, review existing state water reservations to ensure that the objectives of the reservations are being met.” May I humbly suggest that every Conservation District with a water reservation include this as a meeting topic on an annual basis? Maybe the January meeting? This bill passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee on a 15-0 vote. We predict it will be passed by both houses and be signed by the governor.

 

HB 424, a bill to recognize soil health and source watersheds and list them in statute as eligible for the RENEWABLE RESOURCE GRANT AND LOAN PROGRAM, was heard in front of the Senate Natural Resources Committee on 13th March. The committee has not yet taken action on this bill.  HISTORY: The amendments in HB 424 seemed to give it powerful wings. It flew through the House on a 99-1 vote and was sent to the Senate Natural Resources Committee. They scheduled a hearing for Monday, 13th March.  HISTORY: HB 424 was amended and came out of committee on a 14-1 vote. The amendment included soil health as part of this bill: “(8) SOIL AND RANGE HEALTH PLAY A VITAL ROLE IN PROTECTING AND SUSTAINING MONTANA’S RENEWABLE NATURAL RESOURCES BY RETAINING WATER, SOIL, AND NUTRIENTS IN PLACE ON THE LANDSCAPE. ENHANCING SOIL AND RANGE HEALTH WILL PROVIDE LONG-TERM BENEFITS TO MONTANA’S WATER AND OTHER RENEWABLE RESOURCES AND TO THE USERS, WILDLIFE, AND ECONOMIES THEY SUPPORT.” The bill was debated on the floor of the House on 28th February, and passed 98-2. It’ll pass third reading and head to the Senate for their consideration. If this bill makes it through the process, it opens the door for soil health to play a more highlighted role in the grant program. This is a victory for farmers and ranchers and Conservation Districts in that soil health, an issue many are interested in, is highlighted in statute. HISTORY: HB 424 was tabled, but there is much behind the scenes activity to get it back into consideration. MACD prepared and delivered to the sponsor amendments to HB 424 so that soil and range health were considered. It has to come off the table in the next few days to stay alive. HISTORY: MACD listened to the hearing on HB 424. There were 8 proponents and no opponents. The House Natural Resources Committee asked many questions, including how this would work when water rights were involved. The sponsor offered an amendment to include a definition of ”source watershed.”  HB 424 would recognize source watersheds and makes them eligible for the RENEWABLE RESOURCE GRANT AND LOAN PROGRAM. It gives priority to source watersheds (as well as a few other criteria) for funding. The committee took no action. A fiscal note has been printed, indicating that there is no impact to the State of Montana.

 

SR 20, the resolution to confirm John Tubbs as the Director of DNRC, has had no action. HISTORY: MACD President Jeff Wivholm was in Helena and testified in support of the reappointment of DNRC Director John Tubbs to lead the agency. There were 8 supporters and no opponents. The committee took no action. HISTORY: SR 20 is the resolution to confirm John Tubbs as the Director of DNRC. MACD will be present to support Mr. Tubbs. The hearing is scheduled for 20th February.

 

SR 21, the resolution to confirm Tom Livers as the Director of DEQ, has had no action. HISTORY: MACD President Jeff Wivholm was in Helena and testified in support of the reappointment of DEQ Director Tom Livers to lead the agency. There were 3 supporters and no opponents. The committee took no action. HISTORY: SR 21 is the resolution to confirm Tom Livers as the Director of DEQ. MACD will be present to support Mr. Livers. The hearing is scheduled for 20th February.

 

SR 45 is the resolution to confirm Martha Williams as the Director of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. No hearing date has yet been set.

 

SR 49 is the resolution to consider Mr. Ben Thomas as the director of the Department of Agriculture. The committee concurred with the appointment 11-0, and the full Senate will consider the resolution soon. HISTORY:  A hearing was held on 16th March. On Tuesday, 14th March, MACD invited all the Districts and NRCS to listen to the hearing.

 

SB 48, the 404 permit assumption bill, had a hearing on 10th March. Jeff Ryan, a member of the Lewis and Clark Conservation District and the MACD Board of Directors, testified AS A PRIVATE CITIZEN in favor of this bill. There were numerous opponents, mostly from the environmental community. Senator Chas Vincent, the sponsor of this bill, closed the hearing by stating the importance of the bill because WOTUS is under scrutiny by both the Judicial Branch and the Executive Branch, and the final outcome cannot be predicted. The committee took no action.  HISTORY: Now that guidance has been issued from the White House to alter the Clean Water Rule, it is not known how this bill will fit in.  HISTORY: SB 48 went through the Senate twice and is on the way to the House for consideration. It left the Senate on a 39-11 vote. 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.  HISTORY: SB 48 had been amended and passed on a 9-2 vote out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. The Senate debated the bill, if one could call it that, with the sponsor of the bill opening the debate, a comment from another Senator who opposed the bill, followed by the closing by the sponsor. It was very short. The bill passed 29-20, but not strictly along party lines. It was referred to Senate Finance and Claims Committee for their consideration on 9th February. Note that the original fiscal note projected the cost to be $1.6 million per year. The revised fiscal note presented to the committee was $0 for the next biennium. The Senate Finance and Claims Committee passed the bill 15-0.

 

HB 53, AN ACT CLARIFYING THE PROCEDURE FOR CALCULATING LEVIES FOR CONSERVATION DISTRICTS, was signed by Governor Bullock and became law. HISTORY: HB 53 was debated on the floor of the Senate on 16th February and passed on a 50-0 vote. Since it passed both houses quite easily, it has been sent to the Governor’s office for his consideration. HISTORY:  HB 53 previously passed the House floor on a 100-0 vote, and was referred to the Senate Natural Resources Committee. They held a hearing on 6th February and MACD and DNRC testified in support of the bill. There were no opponents and no questions from the committee. 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 Executive.

 

HB 83, the clean up bill needed to address mistakes made in the 2015 Session’s giant election law revision (including impacts to Supervisors), was amended and passed out of the Senate State Administration Committee on an 8-0 vote. This bill now has coordination language with HB 405 (see above). It passed on the floor of the Senate 40-10, but had to be sent back to the House to see if they agree with the amendments. We predict yes, they will. Once that happens, it would head to the Governor’s Office for consideration. HISTORY: 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 Conservation District 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, AN ACT ELIMINATING NOTICE TO AND APPROVAL OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF CONSERVATION DISTRICT ORGANIZATION, was signed by Governor Bullock and became law. HISTORY: SB 39 passed out of the House Local Government Committee on a 23-0 vote, and was debated on the floor of the House on 15th February. It passed second reading on a 99-1 vote. It’s off to the Governor’s office for consideration.  HISTORY:  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 moved into the House and heard in front of the House Local Government Committee on 7th February. MACD and DNRC and the Montana Association of Counties supported this bill and there were no opponents. This bill is expected to pass both houses and be signed by the Governor.

 

HB 305, a bill that revises the laws related to county bounties on predators, was passed by both houses and was signed by the Governor. HISTORY: On 7th March HB 305 came out of the Senate Agriculture Committee on an 11-0 vote, indicating broad support and likely passage on the Senate floor. The floor debate will be held on 9th March, but too late for the NFTF publication deadline. HISTORY:  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 bill also eliminates an older statute that placed a $100 bounty on wolves. The House Agriculture Committee hearing was on 31st January, but MACD was unable to attend. The bill passed out of committee on an 18-5 vote and passed 74-16 on the floor of the House. This bill will be heard by the Senate Agriculture Committee for consideration.  I’ve included this bill in our list, as several Conservation Districts in past years have expressed interest in predators and bounties across Montana.  

 

HB 360, a bill to establish a surface water assessment and watering program (SWAMP), had a hearing on 15th March in front of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. The committee approved the bill 12-0, and it will head to the Senate floor for debate.  HISTORY: HB 360 passed the House Natural Resources Committee on a 15-0 vote. On 21st February it passed the House on a 98-2 vote. It has been sent to the Senate Natural Resources Committee for their consideration. This bill has a good chance of passing, since it has no dollars attached to it. 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. HISTORY:  HB 360 is a bill to establish a surface water assessment and watering program (SWAMP). HB 107 slipped on the ice and was injured (see above), and HB 360 was introduced to try and allow the idea to move forward. However, there are no funds in this bill, and the program would have to be supported with existing dollars. MACD testified in favor of HB 107, and we testified in support of HB 360. There were many supporters and no opponents. The committee asked several incisive questions, including a request for estimated costs to run the program as proposed under this bill.

 

SB 93, a bill that provides for notification at certain dwellings for oil and gas operations, remains in committee. HISTORY: On 15th February SB 93 was heard in front of and remains in the House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee. There is no rush for the committee to act on this bill, since it already passed the Senate. The sponsor remains optimistic that this bill will come out of committee. SB 93 was initially 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. The bill was debated on the floor of the House on 6th February and passed on a vote of 32-18.  

 

HB 228, a bill to provide funding for sage grouse stewardship, was heard in front of the Senate Natural Resources Committee on 13th March. MACD testified in support of this bill, and there were no opponents. The committee approved the bill on a 10-2 vote. It will be debated on the floor of the Senate soon. HISTORY: HB 228 passed the House with a 96-4 vote and is on its way to the Senate Natural Resources Committee for consideration. HISTORY:  HB 228, a bill to provide funding for sage grouse stewardship, was heard in front of the House Natural Resources Committee. The bill passed out of committee on a 13-2 vote, and passed on the House floor 88-12. It was immediately sent to the full Appropriations Committee, where it was heard on 15th February. Once again, MACD testified in support of this bill. A revised fiscal note has been requested.  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.

 

HB 370, AN ACT PROHIBITING ANY PERSON FROM BEING EXCLUDED FROM AN OPEN MEETING and ALLOWING RECORDINGS OF PUBLIC MEETINGS BY ANY PERSON, was approved 11-0 at the committee level, and approved by the Senate. It’ll head to the Governor’s’ Office for consideration. HISTORY: HB 370 was heard in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on 9th March. The committee took no action. MACD does not have a position on this bill, although it will impact Conservation Districts. HISTORY: On 14th February HB 370 passed on the floor of the House on second reading on a 68-32 vote. It’s now headed to the Senate for consideration. HISTORY:  HB 370 appears to impact Conservation Districts. It is AN ACT PROHIBITING ANY PERSON FROM BEING EXCLUDED FROM AN OPEN MEETING; ALLOWING RECORDINGS OF PUBLIC MEETINGS BY ANY PERSON. Here is the complete text:     “2-3-211.  Recording. Accredited press representatives A person may not be excluded from any open meeting under this part and may not be prohibited from taking photographs photographing, televising, transmitting images or audio by electronic or digital means, or recording such open meetings. The presiding officer may assure ensure that such these activities do not interfere with the conduct of the meeting.” Conservation Districts host hundreds and hundreds of public meetings each year. This bill allows anyone to take pictures or videos of the meeting. Previously it only the press was allowed to do so. If this bill passes District Administrators will need to be aware of these requirements. MACD will keep monitoring and informing you of any progress/changes. It passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by one vote.  

 

HB 434, a bill to create the Montana wildlife improvement improvement act, was approved by the House and has been sent to the Senate for their consideration. It has been assigned to the Senate Fish and Game Committee. HISTORY:  It is “AN ACT CREATING THE MONTANA WILDLIFE HABITAT IMPROVEMENT ACT; ALLOWING THE USE OF FEDERAL FUNDS TO COMBAT NOXIOUS WEEDS AND RESTORE WILDLIFE HABITAT; ESTABLISHING A WILDLIFE HABITAT IMPROVEMENT ADVISORY COUNCIL…” The new council that would oversee the program has many members. Conservation Districts Supervisors with an interest in serving on the council might keep an eye on this bill. It passed out of committee on a 17-0 vote, passed on the floor on a vote of 97-3, but was re-referred to the full House Appropriations Committee for their consideration.Note that this bill is being monitored in response to a request from the Range Resources Executive Committee.

 

HB 575 is a bill to help with AIS and noxious weed control. The hearing for this bill was on 14th March in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee. The committee tabled this bill. HISTORY: We had a request from a Conservation District concerning HB 575. Our local county weed coordinator just told me about HB 575 which proposes an access fee for FWP fishing access sites.  This would be a $15 annual fee or $7.50 if you have a fishing license.  Funds would be distributed as follows:  $3.00 to aquatic invasive species (AIS); $3.00 to noxious weeds management at fishing access sites. The bill would also create a line item in FWPs budget for noxious weed management at fishing access sites.  Currently there is no line item, it is just taken out of maintenance.”

MACD has been aware of that bill but no action has been taken about it. We believe that it could be part of the AIS big package that will come out of the Legislature to deal with that problem. The Executive wants $10 million to address AIS and they have to find the cash somewhere.

 

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. jtiberi@macdnet.org

 

In other news…

The hearing for Mr. George Ervin “Sonny” Perdue III for Secretary of Agriculture was held on 23rd March. It is not known when the committee will vote, but there is widespread support for his nomination. Here are links to a couple stories of interest:

Politico: Sonny Perdue Confirmation Hearing

US News: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Sonny Perdue

There is no news as to who will be the new NRCS Chief. Leonard Jordan, who has a 37 year career with NRCS, is the Acting Chief. Those who have met Mr. Jordan know that NRCS is in good hands. This position will not be filled until the Secretary of Agriculture post is confirmed.

Here is a good article about the upcoming federal budget:  http://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/news/local/2017/03/21/trump-budget-great-agencies-big-montana-footprint/99477584/

 

What to watch next week and beyond…

The bills with hearings scheduled next week are noted above.

HISTORY: 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…

NOTE THE NEW SECRET CODE TO LOG IN TO THIS ACCOUNT!

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 Conservation2017​   

​Once you get there, click on MACD Tracker to see the list. ​Comments and ideas are welcome.

The details in that list change nearly everyday.

 

Here are two 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. I’ve eliminated several of the bills previously listed, as there has been no action for weeks, and you may find them on the MACD Tracker.

 

LC1663 is another bill to revise floodplain laws, also, but this draft request is on hold. We do not know any details about this draft at this time. If this bill does not hit the floor this week, it is probably dead.

 

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, PLEASE SEND ME A NOTE AND I WILL INCLUDE IT IN THE NEXT EDITION. jtiberi@macdnet.org

 

Remember that you are able to watch or listen to any hearing from your computer. Scroll through the Video and Audio – Session section at this link: http://leg.mt.gov/css/default.asp  to find the appropriate committee.

 

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 jtiberi@macdnet.org or 406.465.8813. We appreciate your support in this endeavor, and for helping to keep Montana. CORRECTIONS AND ADDITIONS AND CHANGES ARE WELCOME AND NEEDED TO MAKE THIS REPORT MORE USABLE FOR THE DISTRICTS. THIS IS A PUBLICATION TO SERVE CONSERVATION DISTRICTS. LET US KNOW IF IT IS MEETING YOUR NEEDS OR WHAT CHANGES WE COULD MAKE TO IMPROVE THE PRODUCT.

 

Jeff

 

*In 1978, the Board of Natural Resources and Conservation granted water reservations to 14 conservation districts (CDs) in the Yellowstone River basin. Ten CDs were granted reservations in the upper Missouri River basin in 1992, and eleven CDs were given reservations in the lower and Little Missouri River basins in 1994. Some CDs have reservations in more than one basin. The Conservation Districts Bureau provides legal, technical, and programmatic assistance to conservation districts in administering water reservations. At the end of the 2014 irrigation season, there were a total of 220 CD water reservation projects in the Yellowstone River basin. These projects put to use 99,438 acre-feet of water. Conservation Districts have issued 82 reserved water use authorizations in the Missouri River basin, developing 29,246 acre-feet of water.

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