HELENA – The title of Rep. Dan Bartel’s bill, Dwelling Monthly bill 677, appears broad ample: “An act prohibiting sure nonprofit firms from obtaining agricultural lands.”
That was the 1 issue each opponents and proponents appeared to concur on — the invoice would quit ag land income. They also agreed that the selected nonprofit resolved in the monthly bill seemed squarely aimed at the American Prairie Reserve, a massive nonprofit that has obtained big tracts of land in central and northern Montana for conservation, general public obtain and bison.
In a lengthy, late afternoon listening to on Tuesday, ranchers spoke from other ranchers, Republicans were being shocked at fellow lawmakers, and legal professionals argued whether the Lewistown Republican’s bill would move constitutional muster at both the state or federal level.
The 1-and-a-50 % website page bill is amid the shortest in a tidal wave of laws at the Capitol this session. The most important thrust and sticking point claims, “Nonprofit organizations may possibly not purchase agricultural land in parcels bigger than 80 acres.”
The monthly bill goes on to exempt sure nonprofit teams, together with church buildings, schools, universities, hospitals and cemeteries, amid other people. But land have confidence in, community lands and conservation organizations would be topic to the new legislation.
Proponents of the bill, largely ranchers and farmers, testified that they’re at an unfair benefit by acquiring to market place rates in opposition to significant out-of-state interest teams, which travel property values so superior the land are unable to be obtained by persons. They argue that at the time taken out of agricultural creation, Montana loses the possibility to produce and incorporate to the overall economy. Farmers and ranchers warned that if land proceeds to be offered absent, America’s food stuff balance will dangle in the harmony. They instructed lawmakers that agricultural land need to be shielded.
Opponents, like many Republicans, instructed legislators that having the federal government regulate to whom they could provide land is overreach and a breach of house legal rights. Lawyers argued that singling out one group of nonprofits was not only unfair, but gives some groups unique privileges.
“I feel a nonprofit which purchases agriculture land is an abuse of the tax code,” Bartel mentioned.
He pointed out that 70 legislators experienced signed on to the bill, and that nonprofits could use tax-free donations to spend for the land, an unfair benefit. Bartel said 9 other states have enacted comparable laws, such as North Dakota and South Dakota, and these have withstood authorized problems.
“This is not a charitable reason deserving of defense,” explained Chuck Denowh, representing the United Home Entrepreneurs of Montana.
Dick Dolan of the Northern Rockies Trust for Public Lands reported the concentrate on tax exemptions and status was a pink herring.
“There’s some strategy that nonprofits and land trusts pay out additional than honest-current market worth,” Dolan mentioned. “That’s false. The IRS would shut that down in a heartbeat.”
Glenn Marx of the Montana Affiliation of Land Trusts reported that nonprofits, like the American Prairie Reserve, have the optimum regard for home legal rights — which he stated are important to them.
“This erodes non-public house rights. It permits the point out to dictate who you can offer your land to,” Marx said. “It’s aimed at a single group, but it punishes a large spectrum of small business, nonprofits and land owners.”
One of those people teams, Prickly Pear Land Belief, has assisted preserve Fort Harrison, in close proximity to Helena. Jim Utterback, 1 of the board associates of the have faith in, said it would not be able to acquire land to increase the historic area.
“This hurts our navy. It hurts our veterans. And it hurts our state,” Utterback reported.
Brett Doney, the main govt of the Terrific Falls Progress Authority, said that the adjust in the regulation could price tag his space thousands and thousands. He warned legislators if the law passes, the community would get rid of a $2.1 million meals processing plant that is secured with ag land.
“If you pass it, it will destroy it,” Doney mentioned.
John Tietz, the vice president of the believe in and an legal professional, also disagreed with Bartel, declaring he thought the monthly bill to be unconstitutional.
“The authorities would have to present a persuasive condition curiosity and the least onerous usually means to achieve the objective,” Tietz mentioned. “HB677 gives no this sort of compelling condition interest to discriminate towards nonprofits. It would not go constitutional muster.”
Tietz wasn’t the only lawyer to voice skepticism.
James Huffman set up the Western Resources Lawful Centre to assist numerous agricultural land proprietors.
He spoke in opposition to the bill, pointing out 3 strategies he thought the bill raised critical equal security fears. Huffman mentioned this discriminated in opposition to some nonprofits and exempted others. It also picked an arbitrary total of acreage, and it will allow a private celebration to invest in agricultural land and take it out of manufacturing. He requested why a celeb, for case in point, Ted Turner, could buy ag assets and take it out of production, and but APR or another land trust could not.
“It’s not only unconstitutional. It’s negative coverage,” Huffman reported.
Some supporters of the bill stated this is about safeguarding the land so that long run generations could proceed with agriculture.
“These nonprofits threaten my long term,” reported Dalton Bliss of Garfield County. “We can not contend with out-of-state dollars.”
Leah Latray, a Lewistown location farmer, reported that she was based on lawmakers to shield her from the domestic risk of the nonprofits, which she explained as building a “free-for-all.”
As folks lined up from the invoice, numerous distinct teams, which include the Montana Nonprofit Affiliation, timber companies, and agricultural groups devoted to feeding hungry Montanans and creating food stuff sovereignty reported the monthly bill would influence them, even although a handful of nonprofits are exempted.
Liz Moore, government director of the Montana Nonprofit Affiliation, represents far more than 600 groups statewide, and mentioned that foods cooperatives, 4H clubs and even rodeo and good clubs would be influenced if HB677 gets law.
“It reaches farther than you think it would at very first glance, and it will make the assumption that particular groups may perhaps or might not need to get land,” Moore reported.
She advised the committee that she, as well, grew up on a ranch in Garfield County.
“It’s not the location of the federal government to interfere in the marketplace by telling who a particular person can offer the land to and who can order it,” Moore said. “I’m the daughter and sister of ranchers, and I can inform you what they’d say about who we can promote our land to.”
Others mentioned the laws only set some rules on how the land is employed.
“It’s time to put some sideboards on these nonprofit organizations,” said Ross Morgan of the Rocky Mountain Stockgrowers. “They’re after ag land for one particular motive — that ag land has kept Montana, Montana. They are following it since we preserved it. We have to start out reining them in. This is only the commence.”
But stockgrowers discovered on their own arguing with other stockgrowers and agricultural advocates.
“I find it really unbelievable that you would think about this assault on non-public house rights,” claimed Les Gilman, a fifth-technology landowner from Madison County who also recognized as a Republican. “I just can’t picture a situation the place the federal government tells me who I can or can not sell my property to. I am not a proponent of the APR, but there has to be a greater way to attain what you want to do.”