News From the Front, April 17

Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy. –Aristotle

The media reports on the anger that is sometimes shown at the Session, but if one examined the number of bills that were approved with supermajorities, one would see that Montanans agree on most things, or find ways to compromise to reach agreement.

On to the session…

We are in the last days of a grueling Session that tried to accomplish many things. We do not yet know how Conservation District funding will end up. Those decisions will be made at the last possible moment. We remain optimistic.

Almost all of the policy bills MACD addressed turned out in our favor. Thanks goes to the Districts that we had to contact for their help on certain bills. Your local contacts make the world of difference.

We heard one rumor that the Session will end next week on Wednesday. We cannot confirm that rumor, but we can say that things are wrapping up. It seems that the bills are moving very quickly and we are having trouble keeping up with the changes. It’s the same at every Session.

Bills, bills, bills…

These are the only bills that are still moving or need to move. All others that we were previously following in NFTF are in the Governor’s hands, newly enacted Montana laws now on the books, close to dead, or dead.

Total number of Introduced Bills – 1183; total number of Introduced and Unintroduced Bills – 2471 (up by three since the last NFTF).

HB 2, the giant state government funding bill, was sent to a Conference Committee. Both chambers appointed members to that committee to sort through the issues and come to agreement before it will be sent back to each chamber for approval then to the Governor for his consideration. The role of fatigue in making laws: Many of the Legislators just want to go home about this time. All the meetings and the brainpower to properly listen all day long wear on anyone trying to do a good job. Quite often we hear many complaints about what the Conference Committee did, but both chambers still vote for it. We shall see.

HB 6 (RRG) came out of the Senate Finance and Claims amended. It now includes funds for only 4 of the 12 Conservation District projects originally in the bill. It will be debated on the floor of the Senate on Friday and not reported here. We will keep working behind the scenes to encourage funding for those 8 unfunded projects.  The best case we can make is that we are doing good projects, spend dollars frugally, and include the public in our decisions.

HB 7 (RDG) came out of the Senate Finance and Claims amended. There are two projects for one Conservation District in that bill, plus some other significant funding. It will be debated on the floor of the Senate on Friday and not reported here.

Both HB 6 and HB7 are in the middle of the HB5 vs multiple bills issue and politics are a swirl around this. This issue was detailed in previous editions of NFTF. None of our friends seem to have the inside story about how this will end.

SR 30 would appoint Conservation District Supervisor  Richard Kerstein from Scobey to the Fish and Wildlife Commission. On 16th April MACD testified in support of this resolution in front of the Senate Fish and Game Committee. MACD was the only supporter. There were no opponents. Richard’s testimony included responding to several pointed questions about his thoughts and ideas for fish and wildlife issues. We assume that in the next few days the audio of his testimony will be posted on the webpage for SR 30 and we encourage you to listen to his thoughts. It is very, very likely that Richard’s appointment will be confirmed, and we wish him the best of luck.

HB 553 and HB 525 are bills related to Aquatic Invasive Species. Both bills are on their way to the Governor for his consideration.

MACD supported SJ 2, a resolution prepared at the request of the Environmental Quality Council. The resolution passed all hurdles and there will  be a study in the interim 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. Your District may want to think about including this idea in your deliberations and possibly your resolution process.

The feral hog bill, SB 100, was passed by both chambers with significant margins. After a few technical votes in the next few days, it will be sent to the Governor for his consideration. We predict that the Governor will sign this bill.

SB 176 is a bill  to add a state soil as a new state symbol. It has been sent to the Governor for his consideration. We predict that the Governor will sign this bill into law. This bill ties in with the theme for Conservation Month this August.

SB 261 is the Sage Grouse bill. This bill went to conference committee to sort out a technical problem. It needs one more formal approval by both chambers, then it will be signed by the Governor. It takes effect immediately upon signature. It looks like the State of Montana will have a focus on sage grouse conservation. DNRC will play a major role in how this unfolds. So will Districts.

SB 284 would would give authority to County Commissioners to regulate bison issues in their county. This bill has been approved by both chambers and after a few technical votes will soon be sent to the Governor for his consideration. We cannot predict how the Governor will react to this bill. Note that this same idea was tried in both of the last two Sessions, but did not become law.

Enjoy the weekend.