Action Alert – Please Call Senators Today

February 12th, 2021
Hello Grow MT Coalition Members and Allies,

We have learned of two bills to oppose this week from our friends and CFAC and MEIC. Also included is an update and action alert about the Soil Health Bill .

You can upload your public testimony and request to testify virtually HERE.

Oppose: SB174

SB 174 by Senator Greg Hertz (R- Polson) would make it far more difficult for a local government to mitigate the impacts from a proposed subdivision and expose the local government to lawsuits by a developer if any conditions on the development are imposed. SB 174 would largely limit the conditions a local government could impose on the subdivision development to those conditions imposed by a homeowners’ association or covenants regardless of impacts to neighboring landowners, water quality or safety. It would force the local government to bear the burden of proof when considering or mitigating the impacts to agriculture and it would eliminate consideration of agriculture lands or water user facilities and only allow consideration of impacts to “active agricultural production.” The bill applies retroactively to all previously approved subdivisions.

Please contact your Senator and let them know that this bill takes away local community’s ability to decide how to grow, and what values are most important when thinking about how best to plan for growth. 

Missoula citizens have made the conservation of agriculture a priority in all our planning guides and regulations.  We need to be able to make sound decisions that align with our values.  Please contact the Senate Local Government Committee today, and let them know you care about agriculture, water quality, and safety.  Use this link: .
The hearing will be held on Monday, February 15, at 3pm, but comments must be in by noon on the 14th.
Position: Oppose
Status:  The bill will be heard in the Senate Local Government Committee on Monday, Feb. 15, at 3 pm. You can register to testify until noon on Feb. 14.

Oppose: SB161

SB 161 by Sen. John Esp (R-Big Timber) would create an expedited subdivision review process that would allow a subdivider to bypass important environmental and public services review processes. There is already a section of the law that allows for exemptions similar to SB 161 but the requirements to qualify for those exemptions are far more robust, thorough, and detailed than those in SB 161. MEIC opposes SB 161 because:

  • It exempts qualifying subdivisions from the preparation of an environmental assessment and exempts them from the primary review criteria which cover impacts to agriculture, wildlife and wildlife habitat, and local services and facilities. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the local government to identify potential adverse impacts of the proposed subdivision and to craft conditions to mitigate those impacts.
  • SB 161 requires the governing body to conduct the one and only public hearing within 35 working days of the application having been found to be complete regardless of the number of lots contained in the proposed subdivision. This provides less time for the local government and the public to obtain relevant information about the proposed subdivision and its potential impacts.
  • Finally, SB 161 eliminates a public hearing by the local planning board, thereby providing one less opportunity for community involvement.

This bill was heard in committee and is awaiting executive action.

Contact your Senators and let them know you are an active member of your community and you oppose this bill that takes away your rights to have a say in how your community grows. 

Thank  you to our friends at MEIC for tracking and alerting us to these bills.  The descriptions above and more information can be found at their website.

Talking Points for Legislation related to Agriculture

#1. Removing Agriculture from the Subdivision Review Criteria
The Montana Code Annotated (MCA 76-3-608) currently states that:
“(3)A subdivision proposal must undergo review for the following primary criteria:
(a) [except when subject to certain exemptions]… the impact on agriculture, agricultural water user facilities, local services, the natural environment, wildlife, wildlife habitat, and public health and safety…”

If a county planning office finds that a subdivision has a “potentially significant adverse impact” on any of the criteria, the governing body may require mitigation or, if impacts can’t be reasonably minimized, the subdivision may be denied. This is vitally important in preserving a community’s ability to conserve agricultural land for their future.

In the past, legislative bills have been introduced that would remove agriculture from the subdivision review criteria. Fortunately, tthese bills were vetoed by the Governor, but there is already draft legislation to revise the subdivision laws this session and we assume that agriculture will again come under attack.

Basic Points Talking Points
It is vitally important that we maintain local control of subdivision review, particularly as it pertains to agriculture.
  • State law gives local governments the authority to review subdivision proposals and to approve or deny those proposals based on a set of criteria. Removing agriculture as one of those criterion limits the ability of local governments to make land use decisions within their jurisdictions.
Agriculture was the driver for passing the original state law on subdivision review.
  • The original sponsor of the bill that added the subdivision review criteria to the MCA in 1975, Rep. John Vincent, stated that he was a proponent “primarily because of the tragic intrusion on the agriculture land base of Montana.”  In the meeting in which the bill was introduced Vincent said “this was especially brought home to him in his home county, Gallatin, (where) one has to drive but a short distance to see some of the best agricultural land covered by houses and subdivisions” (MT House Natural Resources Committee, 2/22/1975).
Ag is a fundamental aspect of Montana culture that we want to keep.
  • In order to respect Montana’s agricultural heritage we need the land that maintains this heritage.
  • To protect this land we must support a subdivision review process that considers impacts to agriculture
Basic Points Talking Points
Local communities should have the ability to make decisions that are best for them.
  • The basic tenet of democracy is for citizens to come together and voice their concerns about decisions that affect their lives.
  • As citizens we must continue to have a say in how our communities grow and change and know that our state law supports this right.
This bill would harm local government’s ability to plan for the future in a meaningful way.
  • We don’t want to lose our quality of life and what we love about our communities. We want the right to ensure that this is protected and that no one can destroy the places we call home.
  • We don’t want to lose our ability as a community to make decisions that keep the great parts of our community intact and continue to be a place that our children and grandchildren want to live.
Regulations are intended to protect citizens, not take away their rights.
  • There has always been a balance between rights and responsibilities in this country. Just because we have certain freedoms does not mean we can exercise them at the expense of another, or by infringing on another’s rights.
  • We have freedom of speech but we can’t yell “fire” in a crowded building as this may harm someone else.
  • Although we like to give people the benefit of the doubt, there will always be individuals that disregard the well being of others. Regulations protect those that are vulnerable to such manipulation and ensure a healthy balance which strengthens our communities and keeps them vibrant.

Support: SB180 State Soil Health Study Bill

The new bill number has been assigned (SB180) is now available on the legislative website found HERE.

A hearing is scheduled with the Senate Natural Resources Committee, February 17th, at 3PM in room 303.This bill would create a subcommittee within the Environmental Quality Council Interim Committee to study how the state might promote and support soil health. It is sponsored by Senator Pat Flowers.

Next Steps:
The fact sheet & a NEW FAQ about this bill is on the Grow Montana website HERE .

A link for a pdf listing of the legislators on Senate Natural Resources Committee is HERE.

If you have influence with any of them or are a constituent, please contact them to express your support. The link that provides an easy way to message an entire committee or an individual can be found HERE or provide public testimony HERE.