They’re Coming Home!

The Montana Legislature just hit its half-way mark, called “transmittal,” in the 90-day session. That means they’ll be fleeing the Capitol to return to homes, businesses, and families for a few days.

It also means Montanans have a chance to grade their legislators’ performance. And in that regard, there’s plenty to consider, especially when it comes to voting for really bad bills or against good and necessary measures.

Struggling to deal with a huge backlog of bills, as reported: “Lawmakers voted on more than 150 bills up for debate between House and Senate floor sessions on Wednesday as they worked against a transmittal deadline looming Friday. Among the bills heard Wednesday include policies related to stream access; hunting, fishing and trapping; child care; elections; criminal justice and substance abuse and mental health treatment funding.”

It’s ludicrous, of course, to even entertain the idea that such complex and incredibly important measures received the scrutiny and open debate on the floor of the House and Senate so necessary to crafting good law. Those with any experience in the language of law know that even one word — such as the difference between “may” and “shall” — can completely change the actual implementation and utility of the measure. When it comes to the “unintended consequences” the result of sloppy law-making is virtually inevitable and usually produces very negative outcomes.

But with Republican supermajorities in both the House and Senate and a Republican governor, it sure looks like there was a significant lack of serious consideration of the laws by which all Montanans will be forced to live. For many bills, it appears to have amounted to little more than “if the sponsor has an R behind their name, push the green button. If it’s a D, push the red button.”

Moreover, it’s no secret this legislative session has spent inordinate amounts of time bringing bills that are ideological in nature, not particularly helpful to the populace at large and certainly not founded in “the greatest good for the greatest number.”

While loudly proclaiming their message of “freedom” the session so far has dwelt in the depths of taking freedoms away.

What freedoms?

Only those that concern your control over your own body, your decision to reproduce or not, whom you may or may not love, what control local governments have to determine the best course for their residents, what happens to the wildlife supposedly held “in trust” for the public, the ability to bring citizen initiatives, the ability to legally challenge government decisions, and on and on.

What they seem to have missed is any attention to the most critical issue of our time, the existential threat of climate change. Instead of taking measures to reduce our atmospheric pollution and the economically devastating effects it produces, they have done just the opposite. Where is the great initiative to significantly invest in sustainable and renewable energy while sitting on billions in surplus funds?

Year after year our rivers and streams are chronically dewatered and shut down to the public’s enjoyment of the trout fisheries for which Montana is world famous. But so far, there are no great proposals to address this seemingly endless and worsening problem, nor the cash to do so. But there are plenty of bills to chase and kill publicly-owned wildlife — or give trophy bull elk tags and permits to wealthy landowners.

Now’s the time fellow Montanans, to let your legislators know while they’re back home what you think about the session’s agenda — and its ideological, personally intrusive and highly partisan lawmaking.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.