Guns on campus
makes a return
The Senate Judiciary committee is considering Senate Bill 143, which would allow guns on campus by prohibiting the Board of Regents from making rules against guns.
Sen. Cary Smith, R-Billings, the bill’s sponsor, said the right to bear arms was a basic right that the Board of Regents doesn’t have the authority to abridge.
Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, said the list of exceptions in the bill would give the board enough authority to maintain safety on college campuses. A recent University of Montana student and a current Montana State University graduate student also supported the bill.
Deputy Commissioner of Higher Education Kevin McRae said because the Legislature hasn’t made carrying guns legal in other government buildings, it would be wrong to do so only in state universities.
“Campuses are, in our view, very safe but sensitive places,” McRae said.
J.C. Weingartner of the MEA-MFT also opposed the bill.
Fines could increase for seatbelt violations
The committee also heard Senate Bill 165, which would increase the fine for driving without a seatbelt from $20 to $100.
“The intent is to increase the deterring effect of the current law,” said Sen. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, the bill’s sponsor.
Marbut made another appearance on this bill, in opposition and representing only himself.
Marbut called seatbelts a “great invention,” but opposes seatbelt laws because he doesn’t believe the government should legislate to prevent someone’s bad decisions.
“People have to be left to make their own mistakes,” Marbut said.
Marriage equality bill discussed
Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, is carrying a bill that would eliminate Montana’s prohibition of same-sex marriage.
“What we’re asking to do with this bill is strike the words,” Bennett said.
House Bill 282 would solidify a recent Ninth Circuit Court decision that allows same-sex marriage in Montana. Through court precedent – and some state law – more than 30 states allow same-sex marriage.
The Supreme Court hasn’t acted on the issue yet, but has said it will take up cases on the issue later this year, which some opponents said was a reason not to pass this bill.
Pat Plowman, a nurse from Carbon County, said the bill was pointless because the Supreme Court said it will hear same-sex marriage cases later this year.
“Why this exercise in futility?” Plowman said.
Bennett addressed that in his closing statement.
“Betting the Supreme Court will side with the states who haven’t affirmed marriage equality is a bad bet,” Bennett said.
Fish, Wildlife and Parks presents license fee increases
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is facing a potential $5.6 million budget shortfall, and one solution is increasing fishing and hunting license prices.
House Bill 140, sponsored by Jeffrey Welborn, R-Dillon, would raise prices mostly on in-state licenses, with a couple of out of state increases as well. Welborn said the increases are necessary to maintaining FWP’s functions.
“Existing fish and wildlife management programs will have to be cut to balance the budget,” Welborn said.
Resident hunting licenses would be increased by $8, resident fishing licenses by $3. Non-resident fishing licenses would go from $60 to $86, which Welborn said wouldn’t be unreasonable compared to surrounding states.
“Montana’s high quality opportunities are currently undervalued,” Welborn said.
Ranchers, sporting goods store owners and wildlife groups supported the bill.
Opposition came from student lobbyists from the University of Montana, who said the bill would unjustly penalize out-of-state students by eliminating discounts on the licenses.
Zinke calls for better public land management, less bureaucracy
HELENA — With a hoarse voice after his first month in Congress, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke became the latest Montana political figure to address a joint session of the Legislature.
He told a story of trying to hang a picture in his new office. He was stopped, and instead three other people showed up to hang the picture for him.
“In that one small act, we’re drowning in bureaucracy,” Zinke said. He went on to say that bureaucracy was one of the problems with public lands management in Montana, saying that local forest rangers were controlled by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.
He said it was time to explore more state management of land with pilot projects, but said he doesn’t support privatizing the land.
“I will not tolerate selling our public lands,” he said, getting a standing ovation.
He closed by saying the nation’s problems are fixable, and he intends to be a part of it.
“This Congress is going to go from a Congress of ‘no,’” he said, “to a Congress of ‘go.’”