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legislative briefs

Yoga pants comment raises a stir

 

In an interview after a hearing on his bill to revise indecency laws, Rep. David “Doc” Moore, R-Missoula, told the Associated Press that he thinks yoga pants should be illegal in public.

Moore maintains that he was joking, but the Associated Press ran with the comment and the story quickly went viral. Soon headlines across the country, like one in Time, read, “Montana Lawmaker Wants to Ban Yoga Pants.” 

“The bill had nothing to do with clothes or yoga pants,” Moore said. 

The bill, House Bill 365, would have redefined indecent exposure to mean someone commits the crime if they knowingly expose their genitals, nipples or any simulation of those parts in public, and “disregards whether a reasonable person would be offended.” 

Moore said a recent nude bike ride in Missoula raised the concern, and that someone in his district had asked for the bill. 

But it was Moore’s comment on yoga pants that set off a storm of social media comments and garnered national attention, focused mostly on the idea that Moore wanted to ban yoga pants. 

Moore said the most irritating part of the attention was his being labeled a Tea Party Republican, when in fact he feels he is more moderate. 

In the first month of the Legislature he has voted with Democrats against his party on several bills. 

The bill was killed in committee the day after the hearing. 

Moore said it was a shame that the issue distracted from the real issues before the Legislature.

 

 

Tribal chairman addresses legislators

 

Gerald Gray, Chairman of the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe, told a joint session of the Montana Legislature he and his tribe had been waiting for more than 100 years for recognition from the federal government. 

“That day is coming,” Gray said. “We will persevere.”

He also urged the legislators to pass Medicaid expansion and fund Gov. Steve Bullock’s “Early Edge” Pre-K plan. 

Gray said great disparities exist between Indian and non-Indian health care, saying white men on average live 19 years longer than Indian men, and white women live 20 years longer than Indian women. Expanding Medicaid is a crucial part of ending the disparity, and early education is one of the keys to giving Indians the same chances as others in Montana, according to Gray.

 

Bill would ban texting and driving statewide

 

Rep. Virginia Court, D-Billings, is carrying House Bill 297, which would ban cellphone use while driving across Montana. 

“We need to put down the phone and we need to focus on the task at hand,” Court said. 

Leona Schneemann, of Forsyth, told a House panel about her son who died in a texting and driving accident. She said three letters ended his life: “lol.”

Supporters of the bill included Schneemann, the Montana County Attorney’s Association and police organizations.

Opponents included some local ham radio operators, who worried the bill might limit their freedom to use their devices. 

Mike Fellows, of the Montana Libertarian Party and a 2014 candidate for the U.S. House, opposed the bill, calling it a “revenue enhancement bill.”

 

 

Bill aims to quell 

concerns over federal land transfer

 

Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, drew opposition from 

conservation groups and the state government for a bill that she said addresses the concerns those groups have about a state takeover of federal lands.

The transfer of federal land to the state has been a contentious issue, with supporters arguing that states could manage the land better and opponents arguing that the state would sell the lands to the highest bidder.

Senate Bill 215 would prohibit the future sale of federal lands transferred back to the state. 

But John Tubbs, director of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said the bill would harm his daily work. He said he transfers land on a daily basis, and that the amount of state-owned lands is not a fixed number. 

Nick Gevock, of the Montana Wildlife Federation, said the bill oversimplified land management. 

“This bill implies that land management is simple, and that is just not the case,” Gevock said. 

Joe Balyeat, of Americans For Prosperity, backed the bill. He said it would solve the concerns about the danger of a federal land transfer leading to public lands being sold to private landowners. He said the transfer of federal land to the state isn’t about selling it off to the highest bidder.

“It’s about local control,” Balyeat said. 

 

Right to die discussed

 

Two bills from Missoula lawmakers on opposite sides of the aisle that address aid in dying drew a throng of testifiers. 

Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, is carrying House Bill 328 to criminalize the prescribing of drugs to end someone’s life. Sen. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, is carrying Senate Bill 202 to protect doctors who do choose to prescribe that sort of medication. 

The same arguments echoed in each hearing. 

Chris Gilbert, a physician from Missoula, spoke against providing aid-in-dying, saying it violated the Hippocratic Oath all doctors take and “destroys the foundation of healthcare.”

One woman, Bobbie Hafer, spoke about the death of her mother. Hafer said her sister decided to take her mother off of dialysis, which led to her death. Of her mother, Hafer said, “I know for a fact that this is not the course she would have chosen.”

On the other side of the issue, Eric Kress, a physician also from Missoula, supported the practice. Kress said he’s prescribed such medication to about 10 patients. 

“People want to be in control of when they die,” Kress said. 

Ethel Byrnes told the story of her husband, who chose to end his life after struggling with Parkinson’s disease. She spoke fondly of the day of his death, on St. Patrick’s Day in 2014, with her whole family in attendance. 

“There was no fear or pity in the room,” Byrnes said. “Just love.”

 

Bill would increase speed limit

 

Discussion on raising the speed limit percolated before the Legislative session even started, and recently, a bill to do just that brought considerable opposition in a committee hearing. 

Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, is carrying Senate Bill 228, which would raise interstate speed limits to 85 mph and state highways to 80 mph.

Major James Moody of the Montana Highway Patrol spoke against the bill, saying the increase would be higher than what the bill says, since passing speeds tend to be higher than the speed limit. In some cases, he said, the appropriate speed may end up being 90 mph. 

Moody said he couldn’t say if it would increase car accidents, but did say that accidents that happened would be more severe if drivers were going faster. 

Kelly Flaherty-Settle, a Helena-area rancher, said the increase doesn’t make sense on winding roads, like Lincoln Road near where she lives, because animals and farm equipment are often crossing the road for daily work. She said she “can’t see any reason for an increase.”

No immediate action was taken on the bill. 

 

Lawmakers debate death penalty 

 

Church groups and civil rights organizations are backing a bill to abolish the death penalty.

House Bill 370, sponsored by Rep. David “Doc” Moore, would eliminate the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. 

Supporters said death penalty cases cost the state more money than life imprisonment because of lengthy appeals often filed by convicts on death row. Some said execution wasn’t an ethical punishment. 

 “Violence by an individual never justifies violence by the state,” said Jessica Crist, a Lutheran bishop from Great Falls.

Three state lawmakers testified against the bill, saying they’d been affected by homicide in their lives, and that execution would offer them peace of mind. 

Rep. Roy Hollandsworth, R-Brady, said his father was killed when Hollandsworth was only 6 months old. The killer worked on the family’s ranch. He tried to kill the rest of the family, but stopped when Hollandsworth’s mother gave him the keys to their car and he drove away. The man was convicted, but let out on parole years later, which bothered his mother and brother, survivors of the attack.

“My mother and oldest brother lived in terror that he was going to come back and finish the job,” Hollandsworth said.

 

- Michael Wright is a reporter for the Community News Service at the University of Montana School of Journalism. He can be reached at michael.wright@umontana.edu.  Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.

 

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