Montana Senate revives, then kills bill allowing sale of raw milk

2013-04-18T16:34:00Z 2013-04-18T22:57:05Z Montana Senate revives, then kills bill allowing sale of raw milkBy MIKE DENNISON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
April 18, 2013 4:34 pm  • 

HELENA — A bill that would allow the sale of raw milk in Montana died a second death Thursday in the state Senate — in part because some of its original supporters wanted it killed.

Chris Rosenau of Stevensville, author of the original bill that was supported by small dairy farmers and others who wanted to sell raw milk, said its backers felt Senate amendments to the bill had made it unworkable for small producers.

“We figured that 85 percent of the people we were talking to said `No, we don’t want this (bill),’” she said. “I didn’t feel like we had any choice but to kill it.”

The Senate had killed the measure Wednesday, but on Thursday voted to reconsider that action and have another vote.

Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, said while some supporters had lobbied to kill House Bill 574, they perhaps didn’t understand it could be sent to a House-Senate conference committee to fix some of its flaws.

Yet on the final vote an hour later, the Senate came up one vote short of the needed two-thirds majority to advance the bill, apparently killing it for the session.

Rep. Champ Edmunds, R-Missoula, the sponsor of HB574, said Thursday he was disappointed that the bill’s supporters lobbied against it.

He said he wanted to move the bill to a conference committee and make some changes he thought would allow limited sales of raw milk in Montana.

“A portion of the people who supported (the bill) wanted all or nothing,” he said. “That’s not the way it works around here.”

In its original form, HB574 would have allowed owners of small dairy herds to sell raw milk directly to consumers. Current Montana law forbids selling milk in Montana that is not pasteurized.

The Montana House passed the bill 96-3 last month, but the Senate Agriculture Committee made substantial changes to the bill. It said anyone selling raw milk would have to meet the “Grade A” standards of larger dairies, that anyone buying milk from a smaller herd would have to own a share of the cow, goat or sheep, and that anyone harmed by consuming raw milk could not hold the state liable.

The liability exemption for the state required a two-thirds majority of both the House and Senate for the bill to advance. Thursday’s vote for the bill in the Senate was 32-17 — one vote short of what was needed.

Rosenau said the bill also was fatally flawed because it directed the state Department of Livestock to devise rules for the herd ownership by a milk-purchaser — the same department that had strongly opposed the bill and any sales of raw milk.

Christian Mackay, executive officer for the department, said Thursday he thought the Senate amendments made the bill “workable,” but that his agency still opposed it.

“It’s still a public-health risk, even with this kind of regulation,” he said. “We feel that Montana consumers will have a safe product without this bill.”

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