Montana lawmakers have devoted far too much taxpayer-funded time this legislative session clowning around with frivolous bills.
Last week, the Senate passed what Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, calls the "Code of Montana." It's based on the book Cowboy Ethics and directs Montanans to "Live each day with courage," "Ride for the brand" and "Talk less and say more."
While brevity is good advice, especially for some of the state's long-winded lawmakers, the bill amounts to useless platitudes and certainly doesn't address the needs of Montanans. As state residents face skyrocketing college tuition expenses, health care costs take a bigger bite out of incomes and social service programs sit on the chopping block, Peterson's bill stands out as a silly distraction from Montana's myriad challenges. But at least he made it on Fox News, right?
Not to be out-clowned, Rep. Bob Wagner, R-Harrison, made it under CNN's spotlight Tuesday night when Anderson Cooper grilled him on his "birther" bill, a perpetuation of the unsubstantiated claim that President Obama wasn't born in the U.S.
Peterson and Wagner aren't the only lawmakers grandstanding. Sen. Greg Hinkle, R-Thompson Falls, apparently courting the Neanderthal vote, aims to legalize hand-thrown spear hunting. Meanwhile, Rep. Derek Skees, R-Whitefish, has advanced a bill to nullify federal laws—despite that pesky U.S. Constitution.
As if Skees' doesn't offer enough risible fodder to promote slobbering from the anti-government contingent, House Bill 278 introduced by Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, proposes creating an armed "home guard."
Montana doesn't need armed brigades of aspirant comic book heroes at its disposal. The state does, however, need to find ways to pay its teachers a living wage, create jobs (the home guard would be volunteer) and ensure the most vulnerable among us don't fall through the cracks.
As legislators like Peterson, Wagner, Skees and Warburton whittle away the four-month session drafting embarrassing bills, some lawmakers complain they don't have enough time to get all of their work done, leading them to call the state's governing body to convene annually rather than every two years. We might be swayed by arguments in favor of annual sessions if it weren't so painfully clear that our representatives have far too much time on their hands.
But then again, considering lawmakers' radical attempts to strip away Montana's environmental laws (see this week's feature), maybe it is best that they spend that time on bills destined to be vetoed by Gov. Schweitzer.