News From the Front April 7

Dear Readers:

Time is a precious commodity.

Time is of the essence.

Time is relative.

The legislature has stated that their goal is to end by Good Friday. This means there was a lot of movement and work on bills in the past week and this pace will continue into next week. Given the shortened timeframe, there was an increase in the number of bills that have amendments. Other bills have advanced more quickly than they did earlier.

As we come closer to the end of the legislative session, time and the amount of time legislators are willing to spend on bills is relative. Earlier in the year, the deadlines seemed to be off in the distance and on the horizon.

Our time and that of people who work the land is similar. As calving, seeding, and preparing for the upcoming season begins to consume more of our time, it’s important to prioritize and work to find solutions to the problems that arise. That is what our people do and that is what the legislature is looking to do right now.

Time is relative. Legislative time is short. The time for planting is short. Calving operates on its’ own timeline. The goal is to make the most of the time we have and spend this time on the most import objectives for Conservation Districts. This legislative session MACD has spent a considerable amount of time on MACD Resolutions 15-1, 16-3, and 16-4.  Unfortunately, that does not mean these have advanced relative to the effort at this point in time. The CBM bill (16-3, 16-4)  is still in Senate Natural Resources and the floodplain bill (15-1) is still in House Natural Resources. We anticipate these will have Executive Action in their respective committees Friday afternoon and are hopeful they continue to have the support they received in previous voting.  

Resolutions are important to prioritizing legislative goals. Please start to consider resolutions for this upcoming year as it never hurts to start working on strategy before the legislature comes to town. We ask that Districts submit resolutions by September 1st so we can distribute them for consideration to all of the Districts.

The week according to Elena

Time was a big consideration as well when I went to the Senate Finance and Claims meeting Thursday to support HB 6 and 7. Chairman Jones opened up the committee stating that the projects included in the grants have been discussed and vetted already in the legislative process through budget subsection meetings and through the agency review process. He then stated that long testimony is a good way to make sure your project is no longer funded. Had other interests stood up to support projects in HB 6, MACD would have as well. Instead, we signed in as a supporter and talked with legislators in the hall about the importance of the bill. When asked if the projects in HB 6 were ready to go, Cathy Duncan replied “Absolutely.” When HB 7 came up, Rep. Keane talked about how the fact that no one stood up for HB 6 reflected wisdom… testimony for HB 7 was very short as well.

Total number of Introduced Bills – 1167

Total number of Introduced and Unintroduced Bills – 2608

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 are currently 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 will likely pass on the floor.  “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 through the house and was heard in Senate Finance and Claims Wednesday.

“…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 is a 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.

History: 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.

HISTORY: 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 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 to it:

SR 49 is the resolution to consider Mr. Ben Thomas as the director of the Department of Agriculture. The committee concurred with the appointment 11-0, and the full Senate voted 50-0 in favor. HISTORY:  A hearing was held on 16th March. On Tuesday, 14th March, MACD invited all the Districts and NRCS to listen to the hearing. Filed with Secretary of State.

 

HB 405 The Senate amendments required that it has to be returned to the House where we anticipate it will easily pass again. is a bill to revise election laws applicable to local governments. It would impact Conservation Districts. 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, Transmitted to the Governor. 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.

 

SB 151 Transmitted to the Governor. AN ACT REVISING INTERIM COMMITTEES and CREATING A LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE.” It passed the floor of the House on a 78-22 vote, and will move to the Governor’s Office for consideration. We predict that it will become law. HISTORY: This bill passed the floor of the Senate on 23rd February on a 42-8 vote. It was heard in the House Legislative Administration Committee on 14th March, and came out with a unanimous vote. That likely means that it will pass the floor of the House and be sent to the Governor’s Office for consideration. HISTORY: SB 151 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 18 months between Sessions.  

HB 53, AN ACT CLARIFYING THE PROCEDURE FOR CALCULATING LEVIES FOR CONSERVATION DISTRICTS, was signed by Governor Bullock and became law.

SB 39, AN ACT ELIMINATING NOTICE TO AND APPROVAL OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF CONSERVATION DISTRICT ORGANIZATION, was signed by Governor Bullock and became law.

HB 305, a bill that revises the laws related to county bounties on predators, was passed by both houses and was signed by the Governor.

HB 370, AN ACT PROHIBITING ANY PERSON FROM BEING EXCLUDED FROM AN OPEN MEETING and ALLOWING RECORDINGS OF PUBLIC MEETINGS BY ANY PERSON, was signed by the Governor.

 

 

Other Bills in the Mix:

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. SB 367 is being heard in House Appropriations on Friday morning and we will sign in to support.

Jeff’s OBSERVATION: My unasked for prediction is that we will emerge with funds for many projects in HBs 6&7, maybe all 18 of the ones proposed by Conservation Districts. The Legislature and the Executive know that all of the projects proposed are widely scattered across Montana and serve many citizens(voters). In addition, the pressure to produce a compromise bonding bill is fierce. Both branches of government did not rise to the occasion in the recent past, and voters are making noise. The tension will be over which of the big packages/projects are funded. That could leave us without a dog in that fight and able to walk our dog around the debates and get conservation on the ground and serve our citizens and the soil and water. But I’m wrong 51% of the time…    

SJ 5 is a resolution to study coal phaseout. The study would be conducted during the interim. 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 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 It now goes to the floor for consideration. This 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 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. HISTORY: 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 is being heard 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, the coalbed methane committee funding bill, is still waiting for Executive Action in Senate Natural Resources and we are hopeful this will happen Friday. 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.

To understand a cat and dog bill, see:  http://leg.mt.gov/content/publications/fiscal/interim/financecmty_june2000/program_xfer_6_2000.pdf

 

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 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.   History: 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 will be transmitted to the Governor. 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, is scheduled for third reading in the Senate. Previous votes have been along party lines. 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.  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 had no action. 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 had no action. 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. The hearing will be April 11th.

 

SB 48, the 404 permit assumption bill, was tabled in committee. History: It had a hearing on 10th March. Jeff Ryan, a member of the Lewis and Clark Conservation District and the MACD Board of Directors, testified AS A PRIVATE CITIZEN in favor of this bill. There were numerous opponents, mostly from the environmental community. Senator Chas Vincent, the sponsor of this bill, closed the hearing by stating the importance of the bill because WOTUS is under scrutiny by both the Judicial Branch and the Executive Branch, and the final outcome cannot be predicted. The committee has taken no action as of this date.  HISTORY: Now that guidance has been issued from the White House to alter the Clean Water Rule, it is not known how this bill will fit in.  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 360, a bill to establish a surface water assessment and watering program (SWAMP), was signed by the Speaker. 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, is scheduled for 3rd reading on Friday. 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, a bill to provide funding for sage grouse stewardship, will be heard in Senate Finance and Claims on Friday.  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, 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

The House passed on a 54-46 vote HB 473. This is the infrastructure bill that the Montana Infrastructure Coalition has been pushing. It now moves to the Senate for consideration. Getting through the House was a major accomplishment. The bill increases the gas tax to fund infrastructure needs, and tax increases are difficult to pass. The Montana Infrastructure Coalition has been detailed in previous editions of NFTF.

 

What to watch next week and beyond

The budget and infrastructure bills will take center stage. The budget may be wrapped up by the end of next week and sent to the Executive. That would free the Legislature to focus on infrastructure.

 

We’ve got our eyes on it

NOTE THE NEW SECRET CODE TO LOG IN TO THIS ACCOUNT!

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.

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. eevans@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.

Elena

 

P.S. 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.

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