Many Montanans breathed a sigh of relief April 28 when those unpredictable lawmakers in Helena adjourned the 61st Legislature. They largely avoided petty partisan bickering, and compromised on the state’s $3.2 billion general fund without adding a special session. But those accomplishments didn’t stop some insanity from creeping onto the governor’s desk for approval.
A prime example is the much ballyhooed horse slaughter bill proposed by Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred. This dangerous bill, HB 418, pegs Montana as the new home for the horse slaughter industry. Proponents see that as a good thing, a move that addresses the national need to put down hundreds of thousands of unwanted horses annually. Critics believe the bill’s limited oversight—slaughterhouses will not be subject to state environmental laws—makes it unconstitutional. Gov. Brian Schweitzer tried to amend the bill, but lawmakers rejected his suggestions. We suppose we’ll start seeing those snazzy “Made in Montana” stickers on packaged horsemeat sometime soon.
Second Amendment laws also made headlines this session, and everyone knows we Montanans love our guns—especially when we’re the ones that make ‘em. House Bill 246 exempts Montana-made arms from federal regulation, provided they remain within state borders. Rep. Joel Boniek, R-Livingston, supported the bill as Montana handling Montana’s business. Now proponents hope it triggers a court case over whether the federal government can regulate gun sales. Sounds like a risky step backward—not sovereignty—to us.
At least Rep. Krayton Kerns’ HB 228 didn’t pass as originally drafted. The Laurel Republican wanted to allow citizens to carry a firearm within city limits without a permit. That phrase was stripped from the bill’s final language, which now states people don’t have to try to run away before using a gun in self defense.
Speaking of running away, the governor chose not to veto a slew of dangerous environmental bills. Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, successfully passed HB 483, which speeds up the permitting process for energy development projects in the state. In addition, the bill limits how the public can challenge permit decisions, a huge blow to environmental groups.
House Bill 338 also favors industry over citizens by establishing eminent domain rights for common-carrier pipelines transferring carbon dioxide to underground reservoirs. The law tables property owners’ rights in the interests of greater pipeline efficiency.
There were plenty of near-misses that thankfully died before reaching Schweitzer—HR 3’s ridiculous succession bid comes to mind—but still seeing these questionable bills pass into law makes us a bit uneasy. We’re just glad to see the session in our rear-view mirror. The Montana-made rifles on our gun rack frame it nicely.