Why Kerns voted "no"

Rep. Krayton Kerns says he had good reason to vote against his own bill in the House Judiciary Committee last week. The measure, House Bill 235, would have legalized corner-crossing in Montana. But the Republican from Laurel explained on his blog, Ramblings of a Conservative Cow Doctor, that this is "not a democracy" and, furthermore, that he's "not a politician." Instead, Kerns considers this a constitutional republic, and himself a man sworn to uphold the U.S. and Montana constitutions.

"If I were a politician strictly basing my decision on the wishes of 170,000 sportsmen over 500 affected landowners, the easy, popular vote was to pass the bill," Kerns wrote. But he erred on the side of his "core principle" and "yielded to my oath of office to support the constitution."

The Indy followed up with Kerns this week to get a more detailed explanation of why he tabled HB 235, which, in a move that seemed to indicate promising bipartisan work in 2013, he had agreed to co-sponsor alongside Missoula Democratic Rep. Ellie Hill. Turns out the legality of corner-crossing is something Kerns has been interested in for decades. He's both a landowner and a sportsman. He even has easement access to a corner that touches school trust land. HB 235 would have allowed him to cross that corner.

"A no vote, legally, made it so I can't do that," Kerns says.

In the end, he says the issue boiled down to airspace ownership. Proponents of the bill argued that decriminalizing the act of "stepping over an infinitesimal corner of private land" was hardly a nuisance to private property owners. However, opposition testimony swayed Kerns, particularly the mention of three higher court rulings that extend private property ownership to the airspace above the ground.

"It is a trespass," Kerns says of passing through private airspace, "and therefore, it's not a legal action."

Hill now intends to blast HB 235 to the House floor Feb. 18, and will head a rally in front of the Capitol with proponents that afternoon. Kerns is hoping that one of two other corner-crossing bills currently being drafted will approach legalization from what he feels is a more constitutional route. For now, he says he'll continue opposing the bill he co-sponsored last week.

"I think we've addressed the constitutional aspect of it and the property rights aspect of it," Kerns says. "So as chairman of the [Judiciary] committee, I will be resisting the blast motion and advising the members of my caucus to resist it as well."

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