Apparently the Montana Legislature, despite its partisan squabbles over private property rights, sexual discrimination and physician-assisted death, can actually agree on something in 2013: Roadkill has a place at the dinner table.
Lawmakers in the House made quick work of passing House Bill 247 in early February—a proposal allowing sheriffs, highway patrol officers, park rangers and even campus security personnel to issue permits to Montana residents for salvaging dead deer, elk, moose or antelope from the side of the road. Rep. Steve Lavin, R-Kalispell, jokingly referred to his proposal Feb. 9 as "the first true clean-up bill of this session." When HB 247 passed the House floor Feb. 11 by a vote of 95-3, the story made it to the New York Daily News, Huffington Post and Comedy Central's Indecision blog.
It was refreshing to see Montana make headlines for something that even the bill's sponsor could chuckle about. How agreeable was the process? The one piece of opposing testimony, from Rep. Jennifer "JP" Pomnichowski, D-Bozeman, acknowledged the bill's many advantages.
But as much as HB 247 tickles the funny bone, Lavin and others have put up a strong and serious case for its merits. Democratic Rep. Bill McChesney, a former Montana Department of Transportation employee, pointed out the bill could save the state "hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars" in roadkill cleanup costs. MDT maintenance personnel reported picking up more than 6,300 carcasses in 2011. Disposing of those carcasses can be costly, and has been a constant problem for the department for years.
Pomnichowski did cite a few worthwhile concerns: public safety and liability of law enforcement officers issuing the roadkill salvage permits. She also voiced reservations about Lavin's stance that roadkill could go to local food banks and benefit needy families. The public might not know how to recognize spoiled game, Pomnichowski said. Lavin's only answer was that it's fairly easy to tell when roadkill isn't fit for human consumption.
Those issues will hopefully be addressed when the bill goes before the Senate Fish and Game Committee. For now, it's reassuring to see lawmakers largely in agreement on even a seemingly silly proposal such as this one. If they could reach a state of similar light-hearted cooperation on the bigger issues facing the state, the nation might finally be laughing with Montana instead of at it.