News From the Front April 18

Dear Readers:

In all areas of life, we vote people into office in order to serve our interests. Often, they do this for the most part. It’s difficult for our elected officials to fully serve people on every bill or decision. So while it’s important to push your legislator on the issues where their vote did not align with your interests, it’s also important for them to hear the things they have done that you support. If you have time, please send your legislators a note of thanks for their service and the bills and work you have appreciated this session. Like most democracies, if you do not largely agree with the work done on your behalf, work to elect someone else at the next election – participation is the key.

This week we are coming back from a break for Easter and are in the final days of the session. For the most part, bills that are not largely through the legislative process and in the second house for vote are dead. The Senate and House continue to work through bills that have passed the second house with amendments and returned for a vote with amendments.

This year was a big legislative year for MACD as it has been the first session in a while where bills came directly from Resolutions to the legislature.  As a result, I’d like to touch briefly on a these key bills. By using these to highlight ways in which legislative objectives are met, I hope I can provide insight into ways in which we can strengthen our resolution process and legislative capital.

 

HB344 (Provide funding for coal bed methane protection program) – This bill came directly out of a 2016 Resolution identifying a need for funding to finish out the project. The language of the resolution is included in the bill. Despite the short budget year, HB344 is on the way to the Governor’s desk. Representative Custer did a great job pushing this forward. Don Sasse and others at the Legislative Meet and Greet were able to discuss the program and provide important background. Jeff Tiberi and I were able to follow up with committee members in the House and then in the Senate. This was a bill that no one opposed, making it easier to move forward.

 

SB313 (Allow floodplain variance for stream restoration projects) – This bill came out of a 2015 resolution that directed MACD to work on making it easier to undertake stream restoration projects in the context of floodplain permitting. We had a number of meetings with DNRC over the past year. Senator Jon Sesso came forward with a draft bill regarding floodplains and these came out of work with John Moodry and the Mile High Conservation District who also confronted similar issues in putting common sense conservation on the ground. Senator Sesso put together a meeting with DNRC and FEMA. After this meeting, Senator Sesso and others attending the meeting decided it was still important to bring this issue in front of the legislature. In the Senate, there was opposition from DNRC and the Floodplain Manager Organization largely based upon the premise that the use of the word “exemption” would endanger Montanans ability to purchase floodplain insurance through FEMA. As a result of this, we worked with Don MacIntyre and bill drafters to provide language clarifying that the intention of the bill was not to endanger floodplain insurance and change from exemption to variance. While we waited for the bill to transmit to the house, the Floodplain Managers had their conference and based discussion on the first draft of the bill. Although we had talked with a number of the committee members, there was still opposition by DNRC and the Floodplain Managers. As the opposition was based on the first iteration of the draft and in something that FEMA may or may not do as the worst case scenario, it was hard to counter in discussions with committee members. The other factor in play was that House Natural Resources this session has generally opposed moving forward bills that provide agencies the ability to undertake rulemaking.

 

We are proud of the work we’ve undertaken in order to make considerable progress on two bills that stemmed directly from MACD Resolutions. When the Districts stand together to move forward a resolution, we can achieve a lot. In complicated matters such as Floodplain permitting, it may take more than one session and it may be important to have very specific steps or outcomes. Next session, we will do a pre-session webinar to provide time for questions and answers to Districts about which Resolutions may come into play in the upcoming sessions and ways in which we can address them. In that way, Districts can also bring forward concerns or issues they have. The time step of the legislature is very quick compared to our monthly meetings and we continue to seek ways in which we can communicate efficiently and effectively with Districts.

 

Legislators say that they are trying to finish up the session by Friday but I suspect that we will continue on into next week. At that point in time we will do a larger wrap up and discussion of bills and impacts.

 

Thanks for all of the work and service you do for Montana,

Elena

 

Total number of Introduced Bills – 1184

Total number of Introduced and Unintroduced Bills – 2609

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

New bills can no longer be introduced. Bills that have previously been tabled have been removed from this issue. Please refer to previous issues for those bills.

 

Bills of Interest

SB 372 passed out of the House 49-1 and passed through House Local Government 18-5. This bill still needs to be scheduled on the floor of the house.  “AN ACT REVISING LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCIAL REPORTING AND AUDITING REQUIREMENTS; PROVIDING THAT REVENUE OR FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE RECEIVED BY A LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN EXCESS OF AN AMOUNT ESTABLISHED BY THE DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET CAUSES AN AUDIT EVERY 2 YEARS; LIMITING THE AMOUNT THAT CERTAIN LOCAL GOVERNMENTS ARE REQUIRED TO PAY FOR FILING AN AUDIT REPORT OR FINANCIAL REPORT…” This bill could impact Conservation Districts, especially as inflation continues to rise and the cost of projects we manage goes up. According to DNRC: “This inserts a threshold amount specified by OMB as an additional condition that triggers audit requirements. Because it uses “and that is also in excess of…” both the $500,000 limit and the OMB specified limit would have to be exceeded to trigger an audit. The second amendment provides for a filing fee to be set by rule (Department of Administration) rather than the audit fee to only be based on the revenue amount. This bill sets the minimum fee to apply to local governments, so that is a good thing for when they are required to have an audit.” A hearing was held on 29th March in front of the Senate Local Government Committee. The committee passed the bill 5-4.

 

HB 648 passed on the floor of the Senate 49-1.

“…CLARIFYING ALLOCATIONS OF THE COAL SEVERANCE TAX…” Basically, this bill puts into statute the percentages that have historically been allocated under the shared Coal Tax Severance Account used by Conservation Districts. Here’s the change:      (3)  The amount of 5.46% 0.93% must be credited to an account in the state special revenue fund to be allocated by the legislature for provision of basic library services for the residents of all counties through library federations and for payment of the costs of participating in regional and national networking,.

    (4) The amount of 3.71% must be allocated to the department of natural resources and conservation for conservation districts, and.

    (5) The amount of 0.82% must be allocated to the Montana Growth Through Agriculture Act

Conservation Districts have shared this account with Libraries and Agriculture for many years. The percentages have varied over the Sessions, but now they are set for future distributions. This bill came out of the Appropriations Committee on a 22-0 vote, assuring passage by the House. DNRC will have more information as to the impact at the Area Meetings this Fall. If you remember a quote that I included in a previous NFTF about coal dust (seen below in SJ 5 paragraph), here is some proof. Note that the 2019 Session may take up the dusting phenomenon in a more comprehensive manner. We’ll have to pay attention to that.  

AIS Bills:

SB 363 This bill changed a fair amount in House Natural Resources furthering its life as a Frankenstein bill. Amendments added during the Senate floor hearings adding a fee for out of state bikes was removed. Hydropower payments were decreased. A bottled water cap deposit was included in committee but removed on the floor of the House.  It seems this may result in a decrease in availability of funding for the AIS effort but there were also a number of different fiscal notes around so that may not be the case. It’s difficult late in the session for analysts to keep up with ever changing bills and projections. We will have a more in depth review of this bill at the end of the session.

History: This bill that tries to comprehensively address funding the AIS issues facing Montana. It is moving quickly. Senator Vincent has described this bill as a Frankenstein bill. This statement reflects the multitude of proposed amendments that included an amendment that passed on the floor of the Senate to include a $25 fee for out of state bikes. States that have mussel infestations have faced increased maintenance costs for hydropower, municipal water systems, irrigation infrastructure, and in decreased recreational opportunities. The ongoing question is what is the equitable way for Montanans to fund the defense. As of the hearing in House Natural Resources on Wednesday 4/5, funding is a combination of a tax on hydropower and an increase of $15 for out of state fishing licenses and $2 increase for in state licenses. Funding from the bike fee was unable to be calculated and therefore not included in the fiscal note.  Both proponents and opponents agreed that we need to protect the state. Opponents – hydropower, bicyclists etc. – argued that the distribution of the funding mechanism was unfair. Proponents argued that hydropower taxes would result in some cost passed onto consumers and that this would result in a more equitable distribution of costs to individuals and the agriculture community. We will see if there are amendments when the committee likely takes executive action on Friday.

History2: The 24th March hearing in the Senate Natural Resources Committee was very interesting, with many supporters (including DNRC) and many opponents (many in the agriculture community, who objected to irrigators paying twice through a direct fee and increased electricity rates). MACD has not taken a position on the bill at this point in time. The hearing may be accessed here: All Available Audio/Video for this Bill  The fiscal note may be seen here: http://leg.mt.gov/bills/2017/FNPDF/SB0363_1.pdf However, we understand that another fiscal note is being prepared, but it was not available in time for NFTF (Once it is available you’ll be able to access it from the above link, however). In the first fiscal note, it looks like the fees collected from irrigators would be about $286,000 per year. The sponsor agreed to include amendments during his presentation, including an amendment to delete the fee for irrigators. However, the irrigator fee elimination amendment did not pass.

This bill passed out of committee and was re-referred to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee for their thoughts. At this hearing on Wednesday the 29th, there was 1 proponent and there were 6 opponents. The sponsor once again said that he wanted to amend the bill to eliminate the fee for irrigators. The opponents were mostly from the agriculture community. The sponsor commented about no Executive supporters present at this hearing. It was stated that the amendment to eliminate the irrigator’s fee could be added by this committee or be introduced on the floor of the Senate. There were many questions from the committee. The sponsor called the bill “Frankenstein” because it was made with many parts. The bill passed 17-1 in this committee. It will next be heard on the floor of the Senate. OBSERVATION: If you like intrigue, horse trading, problem solving, and the “sausage making” inherent in any legislative process, listen to this hearing.

HISTORY3: This bill 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.

 

HB 622 pHistory:  HB 646 and HB 622 were combined into the current iteration of HB646.  We supported HB646 but are unsure as to whether it will be ok to support steps to quarantine the Missouri River basin. As a whole, we support the AIS issue. It’s hard, however, to be sure where the quickly changing amendments etc. will land and who they may upset.

 

Bills in the Governor’s office, or close:

HB 405 passed 3rd reading in the House and with the amendments MACD worked to have added does not impact CDs. HISTORY: 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 back the House because of amendments. It’ll head to the Executive as soon as the changes are formalized. 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.

 

HB 83, This clean up bill was transmitted to the Governor where he added an amendatory veto incorporating language that provided for the ability of counties to hold elections by mail. Elections by mail is something that the legislature has discussed this year in the context of a few bills but did not pass. It has become a highly partisan issue due to the upcoming special election. It has to pass on the floor again but has yet to be scheduled. If the Governor’s amendments are not heard on the floor, he can still repeal his amendments and sign the bill as passed by the House and Senate.  History: 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.

Other bills in the mix:

SB 367 is still in House Appropriations where they may be waiting to see how other fiscal bills impact the budget. It seems they are waiting to be sure they have sufficient votes on the floor of the house before bringing the bill to a vote there. There was additional movement on HB 6 and HB 7, the DNRC grant bills. In addition, HBs 6 &7 were tied to bonding bills that have been plugged into the system. Reportedly, if a bonding bill passes, the cut off line for approved projects will move to include additional and possibly all the requested projects SB 367. Note that bonding bills need 2/3rds vote.

 

SJ 5 is a resolution to study coal phaseout. The study would be conducted during the interim. It was amended slightly in committee. 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 very interesting observation that I heard from a legislator: “Coal dust is sprinkled on almost every program run by the State of Montana.”  

 

HB 401 2nd reading was indefinitely postponed. History: 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.

 

SJ 19 Is still waiting to go to the floor for consideration. SJ 19 is a resolution asking the federal government to remove brucella abortus from the federal list. A hearing in the House Agriculture Committee was held on 23rd March and may be heard here: All Available Audio/Video for this Bill  The committee voted 23-0 to approve this bill.

 

SB 278 is a bill to revise local government selection procedures for professional services. It passed in the House. HISTORY: 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. 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 was tabled in House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations Committee. It  is a bill to revise laws related to closure of certain coal-fired generation. It passed the committee 12-1 and then flew through the Senate Finance and Claims Committee 17-1. It will be heard on the floor of the Senate on 30th March, where it will pass, then it’s off to be considered by the House.  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.

 

HB 344, passed on the floor of the house and will be sent to the Governor’s office. This is the coalbed methane committee funding bill. HISTORY:  We thought Executive Action would likely on Friday the 31st late in the day. We are optimistic that the vote will be positive. We are fortunate that Senator Tom Richmond has agreed to carry this bill on the floor of the Senate.  This 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.

 

HB 2 was returned to the House as a result of amendments in the Senate. It is the giant funding bill for most of state government, including funds for Conservation Districts. Here is where you can track all the amendments to HB 2.

SB 313, was tabled in committee. History: It was heard in House Natural Resources on Wednesday. Jeff Ryan from Lewis and Clark, Jim Wilbur, The Wood Products Association, and the Clark Fork Coalition stood in support. Opponents largely opposed on the basis that this would endanger floodplain insurance despite the amendment explicitly stating that the intention in allowing DNRC to undertake rulemaking was to ensure this would not happen. Executive Action will happen on Friday.   The  the floodplain bill based on a resolution from Lewis and Clark Conservation District, was debated on the floor of the Senate on 29th March and approved with no debate 45-5. Senator Sesso did a very good job explaining the need for the bill on the floor. This bill will move to the House for consideration. We are hoping that DNRC will support this bill in the House. HISTORY: This 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 explain what was occurring in the State of Montana ref 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.

 

HB 368, the lagoon setback bill passed on the floor of the Senate and was returned to the House with amendments. HISTORY: This 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.  

 

HJ 9, the resolution supporting the release of certain wilderness study areas, was returned to the House with amendments. 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, is scheduled for 3rd reading in the Senate. History: It 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 424, passed 3rd reading on the Senate floor unanimously and passed the House as amended.  This is 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. We are waiting for Executive Action, likely on Friday the 31st late in the day.  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.

 

SR 20, the resolution to confirm John Tubbs as the Director of DNRC, has passed the Senate. 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 passed the Senate. 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.

 

SR 45 is the resolution to confirm Martha Williams as the Director of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. Has passed the House. 

 

HB 360, a bill to establish a surface water assessment and watering program (SWAMP), was signed by the Speaker and transmitted to the Governor. History: It 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, was signed by the President. 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, passed third reading in the Senate.  It 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 434, passed 3rd reading in the Senate. History: a bill to create the Montana wildlife improvement improvement act, was heard in Senate Fish and Game Committee and will likely have Executive Action on Tuesday. It has been assigned to the Senate Fish and Game Committee and scheduled for a hearing on 6th April. 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.

 

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…

There continues to be a lot going on at the Federal level that is often covered by NACD. Please sign up for their Conservation Clip List.

 

What to watch next week and beyond…

It’s the time of year to keep your head low or the consequences are uncertain.

 

We’ve got our eyes on it…the END

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.

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…

Thank your legislators for their hard work and invite them to your events.

Thanks to all of you who are reading this report.

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.

Tagged with: ,