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Montana Legislature Week 15: oil leases, raw milk, Colstrip, abortion

Rep. Austin Knudsen’s bill would require lease agreements to notify landowners of these associated costs. He said the bill would not prevent agreements that simply pay a gross royalty. (Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service)

By Michael Siebert/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA — A legislative committee has tabled a lawmaker’s attempt to clarify how private land is leased to oil companies.

Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, is the sponsor of House Bill 384, which would have revised language used on oil and gas leases to inform landowners of the associated costs of oil extraction from their land.

Knudsen said leases tell landowners they will receive royalties from wells on their land. However, he said the oil industry tends to deduct transportation and operating costs from that royalty. That information isn’t generally on the lease.

“It’s just industry standard,” Knudsen said. “When you’re dealing with private mineral owners, costs are routinely deducted.”

Knudsen’s bill would require lease agreements to notify landowners of these associated costs. He said the bill would not prevent agreements that simply pay a gross royalty.

No supporters spoke on the bill in the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee last week, despite its nearly unanimous passage in the House.

Opponents said the bill’s broad language change would discourage oil companies from locating in Montana.

“Companies do pay attention to the changes this body makes in terms of deciding whether they want to locate or grow their business here,” said Peggy Trenk, representing the Treasure State Resource Association.

Others argued it gives the state too much power in private business transactions.

“We think the provisions of this bill further insert the state to deal with these unique lease terms,” said Bridger Mahlum, representing the Montana Chamber of Commerce.

Mahlum said the bill appeared to be prompted by a “handful of cases,” and that if problems arise with lease agreements then they should be dealt with through existing legal channels.

Senate kills bill to allow limited sale of raw milk

Throughout Montana’s 65th Legislative Session, issues of personal freedom have continuously taken center stage. One bill that encapsulated that was one that would have allowed for the limited sale of raw milk.  

The Senate voted down House Bill 325 on a 22-28 vote after debating it for more than an hour.

Rep. Nancy Ballance

The bill, introduced by Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, allowed for milk sales from a limited numbers of milk-producing cows, sheep and goats. It would have barred producers from selling raw milk in a retail setting, allowing just person-to-person sale.

During its first committee hearing in February, Ballance called HB 325 “the ultimate freedom bill.”

Opponents at that hearing argued the bill did not provide enough safety measures.

“It does not provide adequate disease, drug or antibiotic testing,” said Krista Lee Evans, representing the Montana Milk Producers Association.

Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, carried the bill in the Senate.

“Processing foods takes valuable nutrients out of the food,” Regier said. “Steamed or raw vegetables are said to be healthier. Many of you eat salad with raw ingredients.”

Opponents of the bill said raw milk poses a health risk, and that milk pasteurization kills harmful bacteria like E.coli.

“We have found through the years and years of public health work … that pasteurization does its work,” said Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-Helena. “It protects us from the sicknesses that can come from raw milk.”

Cohenour also said the bill would be costly to local communities, who would need to conduct county health investigations in the event of illnesses from infected raw milk.

In 2015, the Senate voted down a similar bill, also carried by Ballance, on a split vote. Another died in 2013.

Bill would help clean up Colstrip coal-fired power units after closure

With the closure of coal-fired power units in Colstrip imminent, one lawmaker is carrying a bill that would facilitate an environmental cleanup plan for the areas surrounding the plant.

The owners of power units at Colstrip would be punished for making market-based decisions if a law pending in Helena is enacted. (Wikipedia)

Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, said his bill was the result of work between environmental groups, coal companies and the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

“The bill’s solid,” Ankney said. “It’ll take care of what we need to take care of.”

Senate Bill 339’s ten supporters at the House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations Committee hearing said the bill takes the necessary steps to ensure adequate cleanup.

Tom Ebzery, representing Portland General Electric, said the bill combines existing cleanup laws and regulations to ensure the area is properly remediated.

Anne Hedges, of the Montana Environmental Information Center, said the bill holds companies sufficiently accountable for the cleanup of closed sites.

She said the environmental impacts of the units in Colstrip need to be addressed.

“There’s 200 million gallons a year of contamination seeping into the groundwater out of Colstrip every year,” Hedges said. “That needs to stop. We want that to stop. We believe it can stop.”

No opponents spoke on the bill during the hearing.

The committee passed the bill on a vote of 16-0. The bill has thus far passed every reading unanimously. It will now move to the full Senate.

Michael Siebert is a reporter with the UM Community News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism and the Montana Newspaper Association.

Bill would prohibit abortions after five months of pregnancy

By Freddy Monares/UM Community News Service

The Montana House has approved a bill that would make it illegal for physicians to perform abortions after five months of pregnancy.

Senate Bill 329 provides an exception for medical emergencies that threaten the life of the mother. The House passed the bill on a 61-39 vote. It now goes back to the Senate, where legislators will consider the House’s amendments to the bill.

Rep. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, supported the bill and said he takes great offense when someone says men don’t understand abortion.

“As someone who was born to an unwed mother — 11 years before Roe v. Wade — I know where I would be,” Lenz said.

Lenz said this piece of legislation is important to protect the lives of babies. Rep. Carl Glimm, R-Kila, said this is exactly why government is in place.

“I think that government is here to take care of those who are the most vulnerable, and I think that these babies are just that,” Glimm said.

Glimm said that he could contend that 50 percent of those babies would be women, and so, by nature, the legislation cares about women.

Rep. Virginia Court, D-Billings, opposed the bill and said it is the ultimate government interference.

“What happens when your daughter comes home and she has been date raped?” Court said. “What do you do? Do you say, ‘Oh, fine. You can carry this child.’”

Court said the bill puts politicians in examination rooms with a mother considering abortion.

Rep. Jean Price, D-Great Falls, agreed with Court and said this piece of legislation is “too much government.”

“You don’t want government in your life, but you want government in this very private matter,” Price said.

Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Community News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism and the Montana Newspaper Association.

Montana House kills constitutional amendment to make hunting, fishing, trapping a right

By Cole Grant?UM Community News Service

The Montana House of Representatives has killed a bill that would have asked voters to make hunting, fishing and trapping a constitutional right.

Senate Bill 236 passed the Senate on a 30-20 vote in March. The House voted it down 48-51.

The bill would have put the issue on the 2018 ballot.

If approved, the measure would have also added protections for customary means and methods, like bow hunting or hunting with dogs. Additionally, it would have given the public preference in any hunting, fishing or trapping used for wildlife management.

The Montana Constitution already states that harvesting wild fish and game is a heritage that will always be maintained for Montana citizens. Neither the bill nor the current Constitution creates a right to trespass or diminish any other private rights.

“Why we would want to go out and meddle with something that is so simple, so clean and so effective is beyond me,” said Rep. Tom Jacobson, D-Great Falls.

Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, carried the bill through the Senate, and Rep. Kirk Wagoner, R-Montana City, carried it in the House.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Community News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism and the Montana Newspaper Association.