News From the Front, April 10

IMG_5715Congratulations to Ann McCauley and her husband John on their new son! His name is Beck and he weighed 8’8″ at birth. This is the face he made when we asked if he wanted to work for MACD, starting next week.

The Billion Word Building

Researchers now say that the average number of words a human speaks per day is about 16,000. That means that every day our 150 Legislators say 2.4 million words. Add in the 200+ lobbyists and the 150 or so employees in the Capitol, and there are 8,000,000 words spoken every day in that building. That is a minimum, because many Montanans show up to testify on a wide variety of bills, adding more words. Take those 8 million words and multiply by a 90 day Session, add in the hundreds of Montanans who show up to testify and tour the building, and let’s say one billion words are spoken in the Capitol over the Session. What does this mean? Don’t ask us, we’re just representing the interests of Conservation Districts. We can say this – we know the importance of words, try to be thoughtful, and do not use two words when one will do.

What happened this week in the Capitol…

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 – 1166; total number of Introduced and Unintroduced Bills – 2468.

HB 2, the giant state government funding bill, was amended and passed out of the Senate Finance and Claims Committee late last week. It was debated on the floor of the Senate on 9th April and passed 33-17 with amendments. The amendments adopted on the floor of the Senate and previously by the Committee include some that will impact the Districts. We do not know the extent of the impacts yet. We will be working to mitigate any impacts and will keep you posted as to our progress.

On 8th April there was Executive Action (committee vote) on HB 368, a bill to sunset voter approved property tax levies after a certain period of time. MACD prepared an amendment exempting Conservation Districts from this bill. We found a sponsor and had him and the amendment ready for the vote. Fortunately, this bill was tabled by the Senate Taxation Committee on 8th April. This bill would have impacted Districts, and we did not need to use the silver bullet.

HB 6 (RRG) will be heard 10th April Friday morning in Senate Finance and Claims and consequently not reported in this edition of NFTF. We hear hallway rumors that some sort of mega-deal will be made that includes District projects, but we are not in the inner circle and cannot verify. We remain optimistic and will keep working on it. 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) will also be heard on Friday and is in the same boat as HB 6. Both these bills are in the middle of the HB5 issue and politics are a swirl around this. This issue was detailed in previous editions of NFTF.

On 8th April the Governor signed HB 40, the bill to revise the Board of Adjustments for Conservation Districts. It is now the law of the land.

SR 30 would appoint Conservation District Supervisor  Richard Kerstein from Scobey, Montana to the Fish and Wildlife Commission. MACD will support this resolution. It has not yet been scheduled for consideration, but has been referred to Senate Fish and Game Committee. Senator Brenden is the Chair of this Committee and informed us that he will schedule the hearing soon.

HB 553 is a bill revising laws related to aquatic invasive species, revising departmental duties, allowing other entities to operate check stations, and providing enforcement. MACD supports this bill. It passed by a slight margin in the Senate on 8th April. The House approved this bill on 8th April 50-0.  MACD predicts that this bill will become law.

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 amended and passed out of House Ag Committee on 31st March. It will be debated on the floor of the House soon, perhaps next week. Assuming that it will pass the House, the Senate will have to vote once more because of the changes in the amendment.

SB 176 is a bill  to add a state soil as a new state symbol. It was debated on the floor of the House and the debate included poetry about soil by a person who voted no. Soon it will be sent to the Governor for his consideration. We predict that the Governor will sign this bill into law.

SB 261 is the Sage Grouse bill. The House Appropriations heard this bill on 8th April. On 9th April they approved the bill on a 20-0 vote. This is amazing! MACD predicts that this bill will become law.

SB 284 would would give authority to County Commissioners to regulate bison issues in their county. This bill was amended and passed out of House Ag Committee 13-9 on 31st March.  It will be debated on the floor of the House in the near future.

Senate Bill 88

The following is a guest article about one of the bills MACD supported.

History of Senate Bill 88

In 2014 the Sweet Grass Conservation District’s Board of Supervisors approved a resolution to be offered to the Montana Association of Conservation District that would include Conservation Districts in the rules pertaining to public procurement law as it applied to other governmental entities in Montana.

The Sweet Grass CD’s resolution was approved at the Montana Association of Conservation Districts annual convention and was submitted to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.  DNRC drafted the legislation and submitted it as a request from the department.

Senator John Brenden sponsored the legislation and lobbied for its approval with the rational that this would correct the omission of Conservation Districts from the legislation he has previously sponsored in Senate Bill 77 which was approved by the 2013 Legislature.

Without the action of the Sweet Grass Conservation District’s Board of Supervisor, this action would not have occurred and CD’s would not have been given the same public procurement opportunities.

The Montana Association of Conservation Districts and Montana DNRC’s Conservation Resource Development Division provided much needed assistance and support.

Senate Bill 88 was amended to satisfy all stakeholders, passed both Houses of the Legislature and was signed by the Governor.  It will be effective as of July 1st 2015.

The end result is that this legislation will put Conservation Districts on par with other governmental entities on Montana and provide time-saving and cost-saving benefits to Conservation Districts across the State.

Wrapping up

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.

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.

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