News From the Front, February 24

Photograph used by permission of the Billings Gazette. Photographed by Casey Page.  Calving season at Castle Mountain Ranch. Thanks to the Gazette and Casey for their help.

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”  Plato

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of calving than in a year of conversation.” Montana Rancher

The week according to Jeff…

Dear Readers:

I like the first quote because it rings true to me even though it’s 2,300+ years old. I still play basketball at noon several times each week. I see who hustles, who works well with a team, who gets along with people, who knocks legs out from under people when they go in for a lay up, who shares, who congratulates others, who criticises others, who is honest, who plays rough, who sacrifices, who is a hot dog, who prevaricates, who whines, who you trust to shoot the ball in the final seconds, who complains, who doesn’t knock people over, who is a ball hog, who helps people up after he knocks them down, who cooperates, and who has moves that I envy and are fun to watch. I suspect that it would take a little more than one hour of play to find all this out. And yes, it would take more than a year to discover that in a person simply through conversation. Regarding the second quote, I just made that up and attributed it to a way of life since I could not use a real name. It’s less than a week old. Living in this world of farmers and ranchers, I now think that “calving” would be a good substitute for “playing” for character exposure.

Total number of Introduced Bills – 974

Total number of Introduced and Unintroduced Bills – 2580

Total number of bills detailed in NFTF – 45. Is is just me or are there an inordinate number of bills this Session that touch Conservation Districts?

 

Those numbers are as of Thursday. Note that things are changing so quickly that what you read here may be different than reality. I’ll do my best to catch reality next edition. Some may argue that as an impossible task, and I would not object.

The transmittal date rumors continue, with the latest being that the Senate will leave on 27th February (Monday), and the House will leave on Wednesday 1st March. The level of grouchiness escalates for all parties involved in the legislative process about this time, including staff, lobbyists, executive branch employees, legislators, and me. That is expected given the number of players, the tight timelines, the number of words spoken, the alliances made, broken, and made again, the voluminous workload, and the seriousness of the subject matter. But we have not found a better way to manage our affairs. To quote Winston Churchill, Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”  The time near transmittal date is always a good time to keep one’s head low.  

 

Our lead story…

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* 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.

*See http://leg.mt.gov/content/publications/fiscal/interim/financecmty_june2000/program_xfer_6_2000.pdf

 

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.

 

There are a number of NEW BILLS this week! Some are very interesting.

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. The bill passed out of committee and will be debated on the floor of the Senate.

 

HB 486 is a bill for an act “PROHIBITING FOSSIL FUEL PIPELINES FROM BEING LOCATED UNDER NAVIGABLE LAKES AND STREAMS; PROVIDING RULEMAKING AUTHORITY; AMENDING SECTIONS 69-13-103, 75-7-112, 75-20-301, AND 77-1-1111, MCA” It would amend some of the 310 law. It’s not clear if Conservation Districts would still be involved in pipeline stream crossings if this bill passes, as the vertical base needed to support the pipeline may or may not be within the Conservation District’s area of jurisdiction. The packed hearing was held on 20th February in the House Energy Committee. The committee took no action. Currently there are fiscal note issues showing up on the bill’s webpage.

 

HB 540 is a bill that addresses AIS oversight by creating management based on water basins. Conservation Districts would have a major role. Here’s a slice of the meat: “Water basin planning committees. (1) There is established a water basin planning committee for each of the following: (a) the Columbia River basin, encompassing the Lincoln, Flathead, Green Mountain, Eastern Sanders, Lake, Mineral, Missoula, Bitterroot, Deer Lodge, North Powell, and Granite conservation districts; (b) the upper Missouri River basin, encompassing the Beaverhead, Ruby Valley, Mile High, Jefferson Valley, Madison, Gallatin, Broadwater, Meagher, Lewis and Clark, Glacier, Toole, Liberty, Pondera, Cascade, Teton, and Chouteau conservation districts; (c) the lower Missouri River basin, encompassing the Hill, Big Sandy, Judith Basin, Upper Musselshell, Fergus, Blaine, Phillips, Petroleum, Lower Musselshell, Garfield, Valley, Daniels, Roosevelt, Sheridan, and McCone conservation districts; and (d) the Yellowstone River basin, encompassing the Richland, Dawson, Prairie, Wibaux, Custer, Little Beaver, Carter, Powder River, Rosebud, Treasure, Big Horn, Yellowstone, Carbon, Stillwater, Park, and Sweet Grass conservation districts.

    (2) Each of the water basin planning committees are composed of:

    (a) one supervisor elected from each conservation district included in the basin pursuant to subsection (1);” as well as others (please see the bill for details). The hearing for this bill was in front of the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, 22nd February. The meeting went well into the evening, with lots of debate. MACD testified in favor of this bill. Here’s a highlight of that testimony: “We understand that many people have been working hard on this issue since the natural resource emergency was declared. We applaud their efforts and the strides they have taken to address issues and increase the capacity of the state to address this issue. We understand that this work is still underway. Conservation Districts hope that the lessons learned from the Dust Bowl are applied in this natural disaster as well, and that conservation districts and their local knowledge are a part of the mussel response solution.”

MACD Vice President Mark Suta, who attended the hearing, observed that both the opponents and proponents are interested in doing the best thing to make the management of the AIS program successful. The committee took no action.

 

The series of meetings continues for the AIS issue. Reportedly, there were at least two this week. In addition, there are moves afoot to better organize the approach by running all the legislation through one Legislator. Note HB 540 above as one of the most recent bills about AIS. HISTORY: On 14th February the  (J) Natural Resources and Transportation Committee had a work session about AIS (Aquatic Invasive Species). The idea was to gather all the players in the same room to make sure all are facing in the same direction. This was followed by another after hours meeting in the Capitol to continue the discussion. MACD was present at both. Montana Fish. Wildlife and Parks is opening a major undertaking with new staff being recruited for this effort. There are many balls in the air during this Session about the best way to go after AIS, and the discussion is continuing in the hallways and in meetings about how Montana is going to proceed. I’ve sensed apprehension, resignation, and a touch of fear from those involved with AIS, as this issue could change many water related activities, from irrigation to hydropower to recreation. This is a major statewide undertaking that includes millions and millions of dollars with potential serious consequences. Lots of coordination is needed. Conservation Districts are mentioned as part of the solution. We don’t know exactly what that will look like right now. One hint may be the email request that DNRC sent to Conservation Districts about possible roles, and your response to DNRC.  

 

SB 151 is an “AN ACT REVISING INTERIM COMMITTEES and CREATING A LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE.” This bill 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 19 months between Sessions.  

 

HB 368 was tabled in committee. However, there is currently an effort to 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.  

 

HBs 6, 7, & 14 remain parked in the full Appropriations Committee until the big funding picture is sorted out. HISTORY: These bills were referred to the full appropriations committee for their consideration. We understand that this committee has the intention of changing a significant fiscal approach proposed by the Executive. The Executive proposed to “swipe” or move a number of funding sources into the general fund, then fund programs previously funded by those sources with general fund dollars, but at a lesser amount. This includes funds associated with Conservation Districts. This will set the stage for a bit of a showdown between the two branches, but they’ll figure it out in the end. HISTORY: Executive action for HB 14, HB 6 (RRG planning grants, watershed grants, and other funding), and HB 7 (RDG planning grants and AIS funding), occurred on 9th of February. HBs 6&7 passed without amendments. HB 14 was amended, approved with one nay vote, but still has funds for five Conservation Districts(Sweet Grass, Beaverhead, Stillwater, Broadwater, and Pondera). The journey is a bit shorter to full approval, but getting these out of committee is a major step in the right direction. Note that the conflict between bonding to pay for projects and paying cash for projects is still front and center at the Legislature. That storm is still brewing and will have to be navigated to be successful.

 

SB 204 was tabled on Friday, 17th February. HISTORY: SB 204  would move the Department of Justice Natural Resource Damage Program to Deer Lodge. MACD was asked to testify in opposition to this bill, and did so in front of the Senate Natural Resource Committee on 15th February. Conservation Districts have worked with the NRDP program over the years, including a significant project at the Bridger Plant Materials Center. We understand that there are plans underfoot to include Yellowstone Conservation District and the Yellowstone River Conservation District Council in restoration efforts regarding the oil spill from a few years ago. The Council may also be working on restoration efforts in the Glendive area regarding that oil spill. There are many signs that the NRDP will focus activities on the Eastern part of Montana in the years ahead. There were a number of Legislators upset that MACD testified against this bill. See: http://helenair.com/news/politics/legislator-proposes-payback-bill-to-replace-lost-deer-lodge-jobs/article_6c429e43-af04-51dd-8b10-3e47bdbc7758.html   

 

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 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. MACD currently has no position on this bill. The committee took no action. A fiscal note has been printed, indicating that there is no impact to the State of Montana.

 

On 20th February 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.

 

On 20th February 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.

 

The Legislator’s website does not have the date nor the resolution number for consideration of Mr. Ben Thomas as the director of the Department of Agriculture.

 

MACD has intentions to be at the two director hearings or at least listen to them on the web. We were told that these hearings will be near the end of the Session.

 

SB 48 will likely not have a hearing in the House until after transmittal. 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 420 was tabled in committee on 23rd February. HISTORY: HB 420 is a bill to revise allocation of oil and gas revenue for oil and natural gas impact projects. It was heard in House Taxation Committee on 15th February. It is not known how this would impact Conservation Districts, but we’re trying to find that out. We’d note that a similar bill passed the Legislature last Session but was vetoed by the Governor. The Executive testified in opposition to this bill at the hearing, indicating that another veto would follow should this bill proceed through the Legislature. The Director of the Montana Department of Revenue read to the committee the veto letter that was issued in 2015.

 

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 governor.

 

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 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 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.  

 

SB 98 came out of the (S) Judiciary Committee by one vote. It was debated on the floor of the House and failed. It is currently listed as “probably dead.” This bill establishes the Montana property fairness act. Immunities or liability waivers in Conservation District laws could be impacted by this bill, and there are concerns about impacts to the 310 law. There were three proponents and eight opponents for this bill. MACD will monitor this bill, and continue to try to analyze if and how it might impact Conservation Districts. Note that this bill has a $600 million fiscal note that was contested by the sponsor.


The House Appropriations Committee heard HB 104 and subsequently tabled it on 30th January. MACD heard that it is being held until the new revenue estimates arrive and/or if there are any revenues left to include in this program.  HISTORY:
HB 104  passed on the floor of the House 88-12 and was re-referred to the full House Appropriations Committee for a hearing. This bill was sent to Approps because it asks for money, and all those types of bills have to go through this funnel. This bill is “AN ACT CREATING THE GROUND WATER INVESTIGATION PROGRAM SPECIAL REVENUE ACCOUNT; PROVIDING A STATUTORY APPROPRIATION.” Jane Holzer is the Conservation District representative for this program. MACD President Jeff Wivholm was in town for the Meet and Greet and spoke in favor of this bill. There were no opponents.

The House Appropriations Committee heard HB 107 and subsequently tabled it on 30th January. MACD heard that it is being held until the new revenue estimates arrive and/or if there are any revenues left to include in this program. HISTORY:  HB 107 passed on the floor of the House 84-16 and was re-referred to the full House Appropriations Committee for a hearing. This bill was sent to Approps because it asks for money, and all those types of bills have to go through this funnel. This bill is “AN ACT CREATING A SURFACE WATER ASSESSMENT AND MONITORING PROGRAM; PROVIDING FOR A SURFACE WATER ASSESSMENT AND MONITORING PROGRAM SPECIAL REVENUE ACCOUNT; PROVIDING PROGRAM DUTIES; PROVIDING A STATUTORY APPROPRIATION.”  MACD lobbied successfully earlier this year at the interim committee meetings to include a Conservation District representative on the steering committee of this program. 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. MACD President Jeff Wivholm was in town for the Meet and Greet and spoke in favor of HB 107. There were no opponents.

 

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.  HISTORY:  HB 360 is a new bill to establish a surface water assessment and watering program. 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.  

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.  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 281 is listed as “probably dead.” This bill would have impacted pipeline stream crossings and was titled “Locate certain utilities over water.” It is not known how this bill could have impacted Conservation Districts. This bill was scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday 25th January, but the sponsor withdrew the bill. I’ll keep it on this list until it is officially dead. UPDATE: It appears that HB 486 is a bill that pretty much follows the intent of HB 281.

 

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.

 

SB 162 was tabled in committee on 21st February. That means it is not yet dead. HISTORY:  SB 162 is a bill to establish a regional infrastructure approach. It names Conservation Districts as an entity eligible for funds. The eligible projects include: “Infrastructure projects” means: (a) drinking water systems;  (b) wastewater treatment facilities; (c) sanitary sewer or storm sewer systems; (d) solid waste disposal and separation systems, including site acquisition, preparation, and monitoring; (e) local roads; (f)  bridges; or (g) buildings, equipment, and other facilities. The Department of Commerce would administer these funds. Although we do not regularly delve into these areas, there may be occasion where a District could be involved. This is not the flagship bill sponsored by the Montana Infrastructure Coalition.  We think these infrastructure bills will all be held until the last days as the Legislative and Executive branches work out a compromise.

 

HJ4 is now listed as “probably dead.” I visited with the sponsor in the hallways, and asked if he would try to revive his bill. He said that was very unlikely. HISTORY: HJ 4 was heard in front of the House Taxation Committee. This bill would require a study of the Coal Tax Trust over the interim. As you know, Conservation Districts receive funds from this account, and will want to be part of discussions if there is a study. MACD did not testify in the House but will monitor this bill to see how it progresses. On 31st January HJ4 passed out of committee on a 19-1 vote. MACD heard the 8th February debate on the floor of the House. There are concerns about the number of needs across the state and the funding currently in the Trust. The bill wants to look at ways to grow the principle in the Trust. The sponsor made a case for being thoughtful about the future of this beneficial program, and gave praise to the people who set up the Trust. Opponents said the bill opens the door to busting the Trust. The bill failed 46 yes and 54 no. The vote was not along party lines.

 

HB 370 is scheduled to be heard in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on 9th March. 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. 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.  

 

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 latest news we’ve heard is that the full Senate vote considering Representative Zinke for Secretary of the Interior and George Ervin “Sonny” Perdue III for Secretary of Agriculture will be held in March.  

 

Here’s the press release from EPA reference their new Administrator:

Last week, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was confirmed and sworn in as the 14th Administrator of EPA. Administrator Pruitt believes promoting and protecting a strong and healthy environment is one of the lifeblood priorities of the government, and EPA is a vital part of that mission. As Administrator, Mr. Pruitt will lead EPA in a way that our future generations inherit a better and healthier environment while advancing America’s economic interests. He is committed to working with the thousands of dedicated public servants at EPA who have devoted their careers to helping realize this shared vision, while faithfully administering environmental laws.

Administrator Pruitt recently addressed EPA staff to lay out a vision for the agency. In forecasting his leadership approach, Mr. Pruitt said “I seek to listen, learn, and lead with you to address the issues we face as a nation. You can’t lead unless you listen. Civility is something I believe in very much. We ought to be able to get together and wrestle through some very difficult issues and do so in a civil manner.”

Administrator Pruitt also addressed how protecting the environment and growing the economy can go hand in hand. Watch video clips from the speech.

Read a biography of Administrator Pruitt.

Follow Administrator Pruitt on Twitter.

 

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.

News about the Yellowstone River:

http://billingsgazette.com/news/local/committee-will-help-plan-use-of-m-yellowstone-river-oil/article_6c8a3ec2-bf01-5434-9d9a-e7c5cd24e663.html

If you are interested in an appointment please get your application in quickly.

What to watch next week and beyond…

Hopefully a clearer view of the transmittal date.

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…

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 Conservation17​ .  ​Once you get there, click on MACD Tracker to see the list. ​Comments and ideas are welcome.

The details in that list change everyday.

Here are a few 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, although I placed live links in two of them. The ones in red relate to a current or former MACD resolution. I’ve eliminated several of the bills, as there has been no action for weeks, and you may find them on the MACD Tracker.

LC006 – is a bill to revise laws related to closure of certain coal-fired generation. This bill may generate funds for the State of Montana. Some of the funds could be appropriated to Conservation Districts to carry out our responsibilities. There is no text available for this bill at this time, nor do we know when it will be introduced. Keep your eyes on this one.

LC736 – Generally revise laws related to infrastructure funding programs. We do not yet know what will be in this bill. However, there is a MACD resolution about infrastructure and this may be one to keep our eyes on. Currently this bill is on hold.

LC1524  – A resolution supporting lower Yellowstone River fish bypass, was taken off hold by the sponsor on 8th February. It has started moving through the process. The wording of the bill is now available through the link. Expect this bill to be introduced soon. Here’s the beef:  “That the Montana Legislature supports the continued operation of the Lower Yellowstone Project, including a fish bypass and a fish-friendly weir with a fish notch at Intake Dam.”

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.

LC1916- Revise funding for Growth Through Agriculture. Conservation Districts share a funding source with this program. If it’s changed, does it impact us? We have to keep watching. This bill is currently being drafted. If this bill does not hit the floor this week, it is probably dead.

LC2250- Enact protections for Yellowstone River. This bill currently is available for viewing and may be seen at http://leg.mt.gov/bills/2017/lchtml/LC2250.htm I visited with the sponsor and she has decided to not introduce this bill and to meet with the Park Conservation District. HISTORY: MACD sent a separate note to the two river councils to ask for their help in monitoring this bill. We also visited with the sponsor at the Meet and Greet and were told that this bill has to do with implementing recommendations presented to the governor concerning the 1990’s Yellowstone River flood report. UPDATE: We visited with the sponsor and with Park Conservation District, as the focus of this bill addresses dams and minerals dredging on the Yellowstone River in Park County. The sponsor agreed to visit with Darryl Stutterheim via telephone about this bill.  

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.

 

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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