Viewpoint: Montanans must defend Habitat Montana marijuana funds
Lawmakers are back in Helena for the second half of Montana’s 68th legislative session, and thanks to the public speaking up, we’ve had a few good wins that protect our clean air and water and public lands.
However, there are some bad bills looming in the second half of this Legislative session, and time is running out to defeat them.
First, the good news. Any bill not related to revenue, appropriations, or constitutional amendments that does not pass one legislative chamber before the transmittal deadline cannot move forward, which means that a handful of crummy bills have now died.
Good riddance to SB 497, a sneaky bill targeting prescriptive easements that would have harmed Montana’s best-in-the-nation stream access laws. The Legislature tried to push this through at the 11th hour, but thanks to many of you, your Senators received thousands of messages urging them not to pass this bill and it died on the Senate floor, showing that grassroots advocacy and public lands access are still priorities in Montana.
Another bad idea called SB 357 would have done away with permanent conservation easements, making the maximum amount of time for a conservation easement 40 years.
Perpetual conservation easements are really important tools for wildlife habitat and large landscape conservation as well as for keeping farmers and ranchers on the landscape, especially critical as development is booming across the state. Montanans spoke up, and this bill didn’t make it out of committee.
Unfortunately, some bad bills are moving forward, and we only have a few weeks to stop them. Maybe the worst idea is the plot for lawmakers to steal millions of dollars in marijuana tax revenue from Habitat Montana, arguably the state's most successful and popular conservation program, the same program that helped pay for the new Big Snowy Mountains Wildlife Management Area and the recent Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area addition.
SB 442, HB 669, and HB 462 would redistribute how recreational marijuana tax revenue is spent in Montana. Over the next biennium, these bills would strip tens of millions of dollars in voter-approved revenue from the Habitat Montana Program and permanently block the program from tapping those funds again.
Lawmakers are claiming it’s just a question of “priorities” (so Montana’s wild places and public lands aren’t a priority?), but don’t let them fool you. While HB 669 sends all revenue except that earmarked for the HEART fund to the general fund, HB 462 and SB 442 set up false choices. There is enough revenue to go to the programs outlined in HB 462 and SB 442 as well as continuing to fund Habitat Montana at current levels while still having extra revenue to send to the general fund.
Just a couple of weeks ago Governor Greg Gianorte bragged at a press conference in Helena about increasing access to public lands through over “100,000 acres in the Big Snowies alone.”
So why is he trying to gut the program that paid for it? Now is the time to contact the Governor’s office and ask him to respect what Montanans voted for, and keep marijuana tax revenue funding for conservation.
Tell him, and your representatives, that Montanans need more Big Snowies and more access to public land for hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing, not less. As the state continues to grow and evolve, the only way to keep this the Last Best Place is to fight for what makes Montana special.