Just try to get a blueberry picker to reveal the location of his bed.
Cort Jensen, chief attorney for the Montana Department of Agriculture, said no one is going to spill the beans on blueberries — and he’s regulated hemp by comparison.
“People are much more willing to tell me where their marijuana field is than their blueberry growing area,” Jensen said.
Jensen testified Tuesday in support of the bill, one of four heard by the committee aimed at reducing regulations in the state, or “bureaucracy,” an initiative by the governor’s office.
At the House Agriculture Committee session, Lt. gov. Kristen Juras in support of any proposed legislation on hucks, noxious weeds, pigs and livestock.
The Huckleberry bill, House Bill 94, would repeal a statute that imposed strict requirements for products labeled as Montana Huckleberries and establish an offense for mockers.
Jensen said his wife would certainly support the bill’s intent — to ensure that genuine Montana blueberries are included in products labeled as such.
But he said since the law was passed in 2007, exactly zero people have complied.
Among other things, it asked the pickers to confidentially tell the department where they picked the berries.
Big chance, said Jensen.
He also pointed out that prosecutors are busy dealing with issues of a different magnitude, such as fentanyl.
“Prosecuting people for misusing blueberries wasn’t high on the list of priorities,” Jensen said.
Rep. Paul Green, R-Hardin, sponsored the bill, and as a witness, Juras hailed the idea, “Wasn’t that a gem?”
She praised Jensen, who she says was the first to give her a full list of rules and laws he believed could be reformed when the Republican governor’s office announced its “Red Tape Relief Project.”
No one spoke out against any of the bills at the hearing.
House Bill 93, also sponsored by Green, consolidated a few boards dealing with harmful weeds, but he emphasized that it did not eliminate a successful program dealing with the weeds. House Bill 66, sponsored by Rep. Greg Kmetz, R-Miles City, tightened reporting and payment deadlines for cattle owners.
Rep. Ken Walsh, R-Twin Bridges, presented House Bill 84, which says you must not feed pigs “trash” or waste containing animal products if you are a business or other organization.
(The bill makes an exception for people who feed their own household waste to their own pigs.)
Walsh said Montana hasn’t had licensed garbage collectors since 2013 anyway, but proponents said the bill would help consumer safety.
Tahnee Szymanski, assistant state veterinarian at the Department of Livestock, said African swine fever is moving in that direction and Montana wants to reduce the risk it encounters and reduce the spread if it does.
Juras, also a supporter of this bill, said she initially had one question when the legislation hit her desk: Her nephews raise 4-H pigs, and she wanted to be sure she was still giving them pumpkins and scraps of cabbage from her garden can give . The answer is yes.
She also explained the big picture with proposed changes to state bodies, commissions and advisory councils that are part of the bureaucracy relief. As proposed, she said, if a program could instead be better managed by a state agency, some similar bodies would be consolidated and some eliminated.
Montana has 160 such councils and committees, and she said the Legislature will see about 15 bills similar to those that eliminated the Noxious Weed Advisory Council. The idea in this case is that one of the members of the sunsetting board sits in a separate, existing noxious weed group that meets more frequently and takes over the duties of the previous board.
Juras said boards and councils need a lot of taxpayer money and staff time, board members receive travel reimbursements and some are entitled to $50 a day.
“The cumulative effect is to run government more efficiently and reduce the cost to the taxpayer,” Juras said.