Lingering death is the usual means for killing legislative bills, but there’s also the swift smackdown method. The Montana Legislature used that second method, also known as tabling, to cut down House Bills 516 and 521.

That means for the second time since 2017, Montana lawmakers have killed bills to open up distribution of raw milk in the Big Sky state. The two bills were officially alive from Feb. 18 to 21 before the House Agriculture Committee tabled both.

HB 516 was this year’s version of Rep, Nancy Ballance’s herd share bill. HB 521, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Creef, R-Florence, was a raw milk licensing exemption, also back from 2017.

A bill laid on the table can be brought back to life by certain deadlines, but it does not happen often. It’s also possible for a similar bill to be brought up for a vote.

But, these bills relaxing restrictions on unpasteurized milk aren’t looking like they’ll take a life anytime soon. It was only two years ago that Montana House voted raw milk down, 69-30.  Since 2017, the GOP has continued to control the Montana House with a 58-42. Republicans also control the Senate, 30-20. The Montana legislative body adjourns May 1.

Like several other states, raw milk advocates in Montana find themselves up against a coalition of public health experts and pasteurized milk industry lobbyists.

“I can tell you this bill isn’t progress,” Laurel Riek of the Montana Environmental Health Association told a legislative panel during a hearing. The association opposed legalizing the commercial distribution of “an unsafe product that has a history of risk.”

Rep. Ballance, R- Hamilton, said raw milk is “ultimate freedom.” She contends there are other foods that are “far riskier” that are much less regulated.

The Montana Department of Livestock (MDOL) in 2017 said about 30 small dairy herds in Big Sky country might be eligible for raw milk exemption permits if small herd exemptions were approved.

Here’s the history of HB 516 and 521 during the current session in Helena, MT.

Feb. 18 – Text of both bills available electronically.
Feb. 19 – House Agriculture Committee hearings on both bills.
Feb. 21 – Both bills are tabled in committee

In other raw milk state action, legislative committees in Arkansas and West Virginia have been assigned bills involving raw milk. Two bills versions of a West Virginia Farm Fresh Raw Milk Act have been pending in committee since last month.

Also in Tennessee, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee has not yet scheduled a hearing on SB 15 sponsored by Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knox County. It would close the herd share loophole in the Volunteer State.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as public health officials in most states, warn against consuming unpasteurized, raw milk or any products made with it. Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause serious and sometimes fatal illnesses.

Children are particularly susceptible to illnesses from raw milk because of their immature immune systems. Pregnant women are also a high-risk group and can easily pass infections to their babies. Older adults and people with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients, are also at a higher risk of developing serious illnesses from pathogens in unpasteurized, raw milk.

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