Rotunda Roundup From Montana Farmers Union
Legislative Update for March 20-24
March 29, 2023
The following is a weekly update of Montana Farmers Union involvement in the 2023 Legislature. MFU is the state’s largest and oldest grassroots farm advocacy organization representing family farms, and has worked more than 100 years on behalf of Montana farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
Montana Farmers Union’s Government Affairs team based opposition and support for several bills heard this week on MFU’s member-written, grassroots policy, including speaking against bills that would confuse food safety rules local farmers markets can adopt and gut public schools.
SB 202: While our members want their farm products to be sold in local markets and to support community food systems, we also have policy in support of food safety and local control. SB 202 seems to muddy the waters about what food safety rules a local farmers market may adopt. We think local markets should have the freedom to stay with rules that have been working for them, and we support the Department of Agriculture and the DPHHS in their efforts to monitor standardized state programs for food safety at farmers markets and within the cottage food industry.
HB 562: This bill will undermine and underfund our public schools. The fiscal note attached to this bill details costs for establishing five “average” charter schools. That average cost is disproportionate to the actual cost to rural schools. Pulling five or 10 students out of a public school and sending that funding to a charter school could easily collapse the funding for the public school. We urge this committee to instead work toward providing enough funding to public schools to guarantee educational opportunity for rural public schools.
MFU also spoke in favor of several bills over the past week, including one that encourages Montana refineries to use Montana-grown canola and another that would bring additional funding for rural hospitals.
SB 508: Montana refineries and producers should be encouraged to utilize and expand the market for biofuels using Montana-grown canola instead of shipping in soybean oil from out of state. We have the potential to create a complete market – from growing canola, to processing it into fuel, and selling it – all in Montana. Section 4 of SB 508, providing for the Montana-made biofuel tax credit, is especially important in closing the circle in driving demand for a product that is being produced here, and may soon be grown here, as well. We’re also excited about naming cooperative associations as being eligible for the credit, as Ag coops are innovators in biofuels, and are uniquely positioned to expand both biofuel use and production.
HB 383: This bill recognizes that “resident and nonresident hunters and anglers depend on rural Montana for hunting and fishing opportunities, an array of community services, and the goodwill of private landowners and small communities.” While the Fiscal Notes calculate that there will be no or negligible impact to the state budget from implementing this grant program, the grants will create opportunities for communities to band together and build resilience through common cause.
SB 295: MFU is glad to see a proactive plan being built and preparing for the time if/when grizzly bears are delisted. Many of our members have a vested interest in grizzly bear management.
HB 805: Cooperation is a guidepost of the Farmers Union. The bill tightens up code regarding cooperatives and clarifies the law, that a cooperative must be legally organized as a cooperative to use the word cooperative or coop in its title and promotion. This is a safeguard to protect the reputation cooperatives have earned for trustworthiness.
HB 312: Rural Emergency Hospitals are a new provider type allowed since Jan 1, 2023. Regardless of facility size or service volume, an enrolled REH will receive a monthly facility payment of $272,866 from Medicare. Most, if not all, of the hospitals in rural Montana communities will be eligible for this designation and the associated payments from Medicare. The payments could make the difference in a rural hospital staying open or being closed.
SB 28: Conservation districts do myriad work in and around farm country. Montana family farmers and ranchers rely on conservation districts’ work to help keep their kids on the land. Using additional funding from the marijuana fund for conservation districts is a good plan.
Go to https://montanafarmersunion.com/legislation/ for more details on MFU’s legislative work throughout the Legislative Session on behalf of Montana’s farmers, ranchers and rural communities.