With the transmittal date of the Montana State Legislature, come and gone … here’s a brief update on a few bills from the Montana Farm Bureau.

Two bills (SB 97 & HB 271) aimed at stopping the construction of the TransCanada/XL Pipeline, both died in committee, and HB 452, which would have expanded state agency oversight of heritage properties onto private lands, lived a very short life.

Sen. Mike Phillips’ attempt to ban coyote derbies across the state proved unsuccessful, just as his bill to halt hunting and trapping of wolves near Yellowstone did. 

HB 520, Revise funding for livestock loss board — passed the House with bipartisan support and was transmitted to the Senate on February 28.

Sponsored by Rep. Ray Shaw (R) HD 71, Sheridan

HB 520 would allocate an additional $100,000 from the general fund to the livestock loss reduction and mitigation state special revenue account each year.  The livestock loss program provides financial reimbursements to producers for losses caused by wolves, grizzly bears or mountain lions.  The program was established in recognition of the economic hardship caused by wildlife management decisions livestock producers have no control over but bear the burden of.

The program’s budget has remained stagnant at $200,000 since its inception in 2007 when only losses due to wolf predation were eligible.  Since then, both grizzly bears and mountain lions have been added to the list of eligible predators, but with no additional funding allocation. Consequently, the Livestock Loss Board has come to a point where they receive more applications than they can grant reimbursements for.  The increase in funding that HB 520 provides is both incredibly needed and long overdue.

SB 176 —Allow for establishment of certified hemp plan and program & SB 177, Revise Montana hemp laws. The Montana Farm Bureau supported both of these bills, which are scheduled to be heard in the House Agriculture Committee on March 21.

Sponsored by Sen. Tom Jacobson (D) SD 11, Great Falls

Montana led the nation in hemp production under the Department of Agriculture’s pilot program last year.  It’s important that Montana remain competitive amidst the new provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill which removed hemp from the list of controlled substances.  We see passage of SB 176 and 177 as an important first step toward that endeavor.

Now that the crop is federally recognized as an agricultural commodity, some of the Department’s oversight measures, like fingerprinting growers, are no longer needed.  SB 177 would modify state law to reflect hemp’s new status by removing unnecessary requirements.  SB 176 would establish a certified plan and program to regulate and market hemp in Montana.  The bill also allows for growers to form a commodity advisory committee to assist in research, promotion, and market development.