News From the Front, March 20

In our seeking for economic and political progress, we all go up – or else we all go down. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

We’d like to start off this edition of NFTF by including a message we received from a District expressing concerns about MACD’s position on a particular bill. We include this for a number of reasons, but mostly to show that we are trying to represent your interests as best we can. Sometimes reasons for supporting or opposing a particular bill are not clear unless you are right in the middle of these issues. We base those decisions on many sources: resolutions, comments we hear from the Districts, Board and Executive Committee direction and feedback, the positions that our closest partners take (as they generally have more staff to analyse each bill), and the frequent contact we have with the MACD President.

At any time we encourage you to contact us if you see a bill in NFTF that you have questions about. We will be happy to provide the details of our thinking.

Below are the messages with names removed. As a background, this particular issue centered around SB 247, a bill to place a moratorium on hunting sage grouse for six years.

Original message received by MACD:

Supporting SB247 is not in the best interests of the overall Sage Grouse Initiative.  I will listen to the audio of the hearings.  The rumblings I get from sportsmen and biologists is this is not a science-based bill, it is vindictive in nature and the fall out, if it passes, will leave a bad taste in many mouths.  I cannot recommend that MACD support this bill.  We need to build partnerships not create animosity.

Response from MACD:

Thanks for the email and your thoughts. They are appreciated and needed by us to keep us in the loop of this big state.

As we visit with Supervisors in the eastern part of Montana about sage grouse, we hear about their willingness to work on this issue. They also ask why the hunting season for those birds is still possible. It’s a difficult question to answer when the question comes from very practical people.

We understand that FWP initially recommended full closure of the hunting season for sage grouse. The Fish and Wildlife Commission overruled the staff recommendation, and only closed the season in certain parts of the state.

It would seem to us that the recommendation for full closure of the hunting season at least initially came from biologists. Alternatively, their recommendation, whatever it was, was reviewed and possibly changed as it move up through the department.

The latest hearing on the bill seemed to shift the focus of the bill towards an anti hunting bill.

MACD supported the bill to address the concerns we heard from eastern Montana Supervisors.

There will likely not be another hearing on this bill. We suspect that if it passes, the Executive Branch will veto it due to their testifying in opposition at both hearings, but that is not certain. We do not know if any veto would be overrode by the Legislature.

The conservation of sage grouse is on the minds of many, as the state prepares to move forward with an $11.2 million sage grouse conservation program. That is a huge action. That program requires support from both parties to pass. It is on the verge of passing and coming into fruition.

Politics is a strange business and we try to balance our actions based on what Supervisors want and express to us. MACD is certainly a pro hunting organization.

I hope this helps.

MACD

Note to the districts: We remember that we work for you and ask you to let us know at anytime what is on your minds.

 

On to other highlights…

There were lots of activities this week. On Monday our Executive Director Elena Evans accompanied our Acting State Conservationist Ray Dotson to introduce Ray to Governor Bullock. At the same time there was a hearing on SB 261, the sage grouse bill. This bill will establish a statewide program run by the Executive Branch to address sage grouse conservation issues. See the bill details below. At the same time there was a massive hearing on HB 5, the bill NFTF referred to last week in our opening paragraph. See the details below.

This Week: Total number of Introduced Bills – 1105; Total number of Introduced and Unintroduced Bills – 2452

 

Current Status of bills we’re tracking:

House Bill 2 (DNRC Budgets for Conservation Districts – MACD Supports)

HB 2 was debated on the floor of the House 17th-19th March. DNRC’s budget request for Conservation Districts stayed in place. The bill will soon move to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee for their consideration. MACD will testify in front of that committee in support of this bill. Revenue projections to fund all the provisions of this bill will be updated on 23rd March. Assuming all goes well and the bill keeps making progress, the level of the revenue estimates will determine the level of the increases for Districts.

HISTORY: HB2 contains the DNRC budget for Conservation Districts. It will not be linked here due to it’s length.District budget support is in this bill.

This bill was passed out of the full House Appropriations Committee on 11th March and MACD testified in support.

HB 2 was formally passed from the subcommittee to the full House Appropriations Committee for their consideration. The testimony provided by Supervisors staff, and managers will play a very large role in how this ends up. The many great examples they provided of how our people spend any allocation we receive from the Legislature laid a solid foundation for the committee’s considerations.

On 17th and 18th February, the subcommittee that heard testimony on those funds took Executive Action and voted on a number of items. A funding increase for Conservation Districts’ 223 program and administrative grants was included in this bill. However, on 17th February one of the subcommittee members asked the subcommittee to vote to reduce the dollars available to fully fund those requests, and the subcommittee agreed. On 18th February, thank goodness, the subcommittee voted to keep the authority to spend the full amount requested. Now we have the authority to increase those programs, but not enough cash to fully fund what was requested.  Right now the funds are cut, but we still have an opportunity to try and get them back to the proposed levels. MACD will be working to find the dollars needed to fully fund those requests.

House Bill 5 (RRGL and RDG Grants – MACD Supports)

The House Appropriations Committee hearing for HB 5 was held on Monday, 16th March. There was a tremendous push to have many of the project sponsors attend the hearing to express their interest in the funding of their project. Many Conservation Districts sent someone or asked a local entity represented at the hearing to mention their project. MACD testified in support of the Conservation District projects in this bill. The committee has not yet acted.

HISTORY:  MACD will continue to support this bill because of the funding requests from Districts.

A hearing is scheduled for Monday 16th March at 3:00 PM.

Executive Action occurred the week of 9th February. It looks like all 12 Districts’ projects moved to the full House Appropriations Committee. There are still cooks in the kitchen preparing the splits for this bill, and we have been in touch with a couple of the chefs to keep our fingers in the batter. We just do not know how that will play out, but we are watching and looking for any details that will indicate one way or the other for the projects we want. Time is moving forward, however, and we will have a better idea about the fate of project proposals from Mile High, Pondera, Park, Petroleum, Green Mountain, Ruby, Liberty, Garfield, Lower Musselshell, Sweet Grass, Bitterroot, and Deer Lodge Conservation Districts after the full committee acts. As previously mentioned in NFTF, getting past the first committee step is usually the biggest hurdle for these requests. Once the projects get out of committee, they start getting rolled into a much larger action. The funds requested total $2,075,248 and are in both the RRGL and RDG programs. Details as to specific amounts and the titles of the projects may be seen at  http://leg.mt.gov/bills/2015/billpdf/HB0005.pdf

House Bill 6 (Renewable Resource Grants – MACD Supports)

There has been no action regarding this bill. HB 6 provides for renewable resource grants. A hearing was held on 12th March but the Executive Branch did not attend the hearing, as they support HB 5, the Governor’s proposal. MACD testified and said that we support the projects that are in this bill. These grants are also in HB 5 (above) and it is not known how the Legislature will end up addressing these needs. Both bills (HB 5 and HB 6) will likely not be passed, but stranger things have happened at Session. MACD will continue to monitor progress of this bill.

House Bill 7 (Reclamation and Development Grants – MACD Supports)

There has been no action regarding this bill. HB 7 provides for reclamation and development grants. A hearing was held on 12th March but the Executive Branch did not attend the hearing, as they support HB 5, the Governor’s proposal. MACD was not able to testified in support of this bill because of a sage grouse meeting scheduled at the same time, but we support the District projects in this bill. This bill has funding for the Deer Lodge Conservation District (two proposals), funding for planning grants, funding for aquatic invasive species, and funding for the Montana Salinity Control Association. All of these programs and grants are also in HB 5 (above) . It is not known how the Legislature will end up addressing these needs. Both bills (HB 5 and HB 7) will likely not be passed, but stranger things have happened at Session. MACD will continue to monitor progress of this bill.

House Bill 40 (Board of Adjustments Bill – MACD Supports)

HB 40 is scheduled for a hearing on Friday, 20th March. We will not be able to report the outcome due to the timing of NFTF. MACD President Jeff Wivholm is in Helena that day and will testify for this bill.

HISTORY:  HB 40, the board of adjustments bill, passed the House 92-6 and will be scheduled in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. MACD supports this bill. It was referred to that committee on 21st January. We found a Senator who agreed to sponsor the bill on the floor of the Senate. This bill has momentum and should continue on a positive track.

House Bill 84 (MACD Supports)

The Governor has signed this bill and it is now the law of the land.  HISTORY: HB 84 (election law clarifications) passed the House 90-10 and was referred to Senate State Administration for a hearing. MACD supported this bill and it passed out of committee 7-0. It then passed the Senate 38-11 and was sent to the Governor on 16th February for his consideration. The Governor has not yet acted. MACD will continue to support this bill.

House Bill 194 (MACD Supports)

HB 194 passed the full Senate 31-19 on 13th March. Now that it has cleared both chambers and will be sent to the Governor for his consideration.

HISTORY:

HB 194 passed out of Senate Ag Committee on 10th March on an 11-0 vote. It is expected to pass the floor consideration.

The Senate Ag Committee held a hearing 5th March on HB 194, a bison bill. MACD testified as a supporter of this bill.  There were no opponents. This was especially unusual, as a number of folks who testified against this bill in the House came in as supporters in the Senate. We suspect this bill will be passed by both chambers but we are not willing to speculate on the position of the Governor’s Office when it is delivered for his signature.

HB 194 is now scheduled for a hearing in front of the Senate Ag Committee on 5th March. It was initially heard in front of the House Agriculture Committee. This bill was amended to take into account comments MACD provided to improve the bill. The bill passed out of committee and was heard on the floor of the House, where it passed 91-9. That is quite amazing knowing that this was a bison bill opposed by many in the environmental community.  MACD supports this bill, as it tries to assure that grazing issues are professionally considered when bison matters are on the table.

House Bill 290 (MACD has no position but will monitor)

This bill was heard in front of Senate State Administration Committee on 18th March. The committee has not taken action as of this writing.

HISTORY: HB 290, a bill to maximize information integrity in government actions, was heard in front of House State Administration. It passed out of committee on an 11-9 vote. It passed the floor of the House but was re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee, where it passed 16-4. It was passed by the full House 57-43. MACD worked with the sponsor and partners to amend this bill so that Conservation Districts were not included.

House Bill 329 (Cooperative Weed Pilot Project – MACD Supports)

This bill was tabled in committee on 13th March.  HISTORY: HB 329 is a short bill that tries to establish a pilot project to encourage government entities and private individuals to participate in a cooperative weed control project that includes federal land. The bill was heard in front of the House Natural Resources Committee but they have not taken action as of this writing. MACD supported the bill, as Conservation Districts were mentioned in the text as a possible coordinator.

HB 525 Aquatic Invasive Species (MACD Supports)

This bill is scheduled for a hearing in front of Senate Natural Resources Committee on 23rd March.   HB 525 is a bill for an Act revising aquatic invasive species funding laws and creating a trust fund and grant account.  MACD supports this bill. This bill was passed by the House Natural Resources Committee on 20th February on an unanimous vote. The House debated this bill on 25th March and passed it 99-1 on second reading. On third reading it passed 100-0. The Senate will now consider this bill.

HB 553 Aquatic Invasive Species (MACD Supports)

This bill is scheduled for a hearing in front of Senate Natural Resources Committee on 23rd March.  HB 553 is an Act revising laws related to aquatic invasive species, revising departmental duties, allowing other entities to operate check stations, and providing enforcement. MACD supports this bill. This bill was passed by the House Natural Resources Committee on 20th February on an unanimous vote. The House debated this bill on 25th March and passed it 98-1. On third reading this passed 100-0 and will now be considered in the Senate.

Action in the Senate:

SJ2 (MACD Supports)

This resolution was heard in front of the House Natural Resources Committee on 11th March but they have not yet acted on the bill.

HISTORY: MACD supported SJ 2 , a resolution prepared at the request of the Environmental Quality Council. MACD was the only entity in the room other than sponsor, Senator Brad Hamlett. The resolution authorizes a study to be conducted in a formal manner to look at the pros and cons of the State of Montana assuming the 404 permit system currently administered by the US Army Corps of Engineers. This was looked at many years ago and the state rejected it due to costs. We suspect that will be the outcome of this study should this resolution pass. It passed the full Senate 47-2 on 9th February, and was assigned to House Natural Resources Committee for consideration in March.

SJ11 (Resolution requesting removal of brucella abortus from federal list – MACD Supports)

On 27th February this resolution was withdrawn per House Rule H30-50(3)(b). We do not know what this means but will be following up.

HISTORY: MACD testified in support of this bill. It was heard in front of Senate Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation Committee and passed 11-0. It was debated on the floor of the Senate on 23rd February where it passed 50-0. It will be sent to the House for their consideration in March.

Senate Bill 88 (Establish contracting laws for conservation districts – MACD Supports)

SB 88 is well on its way to becoming a law. It passed out of Committee 17-0, and passed the full House 94-6. It will be sent to the Governor for his consideration. We assume he will sign it, but will make a few inquiries.

HISTORY:  SB 88 (Conservation District contracting) passed the full Senate 48-0. It was heard heard Monday 9th February in the House Natural Resources Committee. That Committee passed the bill 17-0, and it will be debated on the floor of the House at some point in time, likely after Transmittal. Our outlook is that this bill will pass and be sent to the Governor for consideration. This bill was amended to take out a few sections that caused heartburn to the Committee.

Senate Bill 100 (MACD Supports)

There are no changes to this bill since the last NFTF.  The feral hog bill, SB 100, was heard and supported in the (S) Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee and passed the floor of the Senate 50-0. It was referred to House Agriculture Committee where MACD testified on 3rd February in support of this bill. The committee has not held Executive Action on this bill as of this writing. We understand that there may be a few amendments from the House committee, but we have not been able to review them yet. We expect no activity on this bill until March.

SB 176  (MACD Supported in the Senate)

This bill has been scheduled for a hearing on 24th March in the House Ag Committee.  SB 176 is  a bill  to add a state soil as a new state symbol. MACD testified in support of this bill in front of the Senate Ag Committee. The committee passed the bill 6-5 and the bill passed the full Senate.  It has been referred to House Ag Committee for consideration. It will be heard in early March by this committee.

SB 247 Prohibit Sage Grouse Hunting in Montana until 2021 (MACD Supported in the Senate)

This bill had a hearing in front of the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee on 12th March. MACD supported this bill. There were many opponents. If you have time, listen to the recording of this hearing to hear many, many viewpoints.  The committee has not yet acted. HISTORY:  SB 247 is a bill to ban hunting sage grouse until 2021 to help the species recover. Based on input from a number of Districts that questioned why hunting was not banned considering the possible listing issue, MACD supported this bill through the Senate. It has been referred to the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee for consideration in March.

SB 261 (Establish a Montana Sage Grouse Program – MACD Supports)

A hearing for this bill was held in front of the House Federal Relations, Energy, and Telecommunications Committee on Monday, 16th March. Les Gilman from the Range Resources Committee testified in support of this bill, as did MACD. The Committee has not yet taken action on this bill.

HISTORY:  SB 261 is the Sage Grouse bill. There was a well attended hearing on Wednesday 11th February in Senate Natural Resources Committee. MACD President Jeff Wivholm testified in support of this bill. MACD has been involved in this issue and will continue to be involved. The committee passed the bill on a 10-2 vote. This bill went to the floor and passed 39-10. It was then re-referred to Senate Finance and Claims because of the Fiscal Note. It passed that committee 16-2, and it passed the full Senate 43-7 on 25th February and 41-9 on third reading. This bill will move to the House for their consideration sometime in March.

If you have not had the chance to read the letter linked in a previous edition of NFTF concerning sage grouse, we encourage you to do so (read it here). This is a major issue for the state.

SB 273 (Coordinate and Cooperate with Federal Agencies – MACD Supported in the Senate)

This bill was tabled in committee.  SB 273 would clarify that Districts have the ability and authority to coordinate and cooperate with federal agencies in natural resource issues. MACD supports this bill and testified in support in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. We understand that there are unexpected issues with this bill. It was tabled on 18th February and likely will die there.

SB 284 (Require approval of county commissioners for bison relocation – MACD Supports)

This bill had a hearing on 10th March in front of the House Ag Committee. The Committee has not acted as of this writing. Listen to the testimony by clicking on the speaker here: (H) Agriculture   MACD supported this bill.

HISTORY: SB 284 would would give authority to County Commissioners to regulate bison issues in their county. Based on at least two resolutions that were passed in the last few years, MACD supported this bill and testified in support in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. There were many proponents and opponents, and the committee passed this bill 8-1. It was then debated on the floor of the Senate and passed 32-17. This bill will move to the House in March for their consideration, with the first stop being in the House Agriculture Committee. NOTE: A bill with a similar theme was attempted last Session but failed. A recording of the hearing is on the Legislator’s website.

SB 340 (Requirements for public information – MACD Opposed)

This bill has been tabled in committee and is considered dead.   SB 340 is a bill that would place a number of requirements on the Districts for public information. There are already several state laws that require public information, including financial reports to the Department of Administration. In addition, any member of the public may contact any Conservation District at any time and ask for information, and we are glad to oblige. MACD is hoping to work more with the Districts this calendar year to help organize information and use the MACD website to make more documents available for public viewing.

MACD opposed this bill. It was heard in front of Senate Local Government on18th February. There were no supporters. The bill was tabled on 20th February and will likely die in the committee.

SB 341 (Various administrative changes for conservation districts – MACD Opposed)

This is bill has been table in committee and is considered dead.   SB 341 is a bill that would impact the Districts considerably if it is passed. It requires that a Supervisor vacancy be re-filled within 30 days. It requires that the top two urban areas that pay the most in mil levy be assigned the two urban supervisor positions in each District. It eliminates the ability for a Board to declare a person elected by acclamation. It creates some confusion regarding the total number of Supervisors per each District by eliminating some parts of the law and adding new laws that could be interpreted as allowing nine Supervisors in a District. It eliminates the ability of a Supervisor to hold office until a successor had been elected and qualified. For all these reasons, and the fact that this bill was made available to the public on a Saturday with the hearing the following Wednesday, MACD opposed this bill.

As one Supervisor put it when he wrote to committee members:

“Fact: Conservation District Supervisors are volunteers.  It is often difficult to find impartial volunteers willing to serve, who can meet the qualifications of the law as it is currently written.  It is not impossible. My opinion: The proposed changes could undermine the intent of the law by unfairly loading the CD Board with like-minded Supervisors from the areas providing the “most money”.  This translates as large urban areas providing the opinion base for actions taking place in much larger but more sparsely populated rural areas.

The current system purposely inserts some difficulty into finding the right mix of individuals to comprise a Board of Supervisors.  The hidden gem is that this eclectic group of amateurs with no particular agenda can hold sway over a hardened cadre of Agency representatives, each fiercely defending the position that provides their paycheck. The CD Board holds the green branch of compromise that everyone can bend without breaking.”

This bill was heard in front of Senate Local Government on 18th February. There were no supporters. The bill was tabled on 20th February and will likely die in the committee.

SB 389 (Stream Definitions – MACD to monitor)

A hearing is scheduled for 27th March in House Natural Resources for this bill. MACD will not attend the hearing.

HISTORY:  SB 389 addresses a couple of stream-related definitions that we have an interest in. Both Don MacIntyre and Laurie Zeller reviewed this bill and are of the opinion that we do not have a dog in this fight, as the bill pertains and specifically refers to another title in state law. This bill is making it’s way through the process. MACD will monitor the bill but does not plan to support or oppose.

 

Please look at the MACD Facebook page for other pictures and short comments about the Legislature.

Happy spring!


 

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