Gazette opinion: Legislators should put focus on the practical, essential

2013-01-11T00:10:00Z Gazette opinion: Legislators should put focus on the practical, essentialGazette Staff The Billings Gazette
January 11, 2013 12:10 am  • 

In the first days of the 63rd Montana Legislature, the bill count totaled 1,843 drafts of which 275 had already been introduced in the House or Senate.

Proposed legislation covers myriad issues. Citizens interested in particular issues can keep tabs on them. Voters who want to know what ideas their senator and representative are pushing can find out at the Legislature’s website. There they will find interesting reading.

For example, Rep. Cary Smith, R-Billings, starting his third term, has requested 17 bill drafts, including a referendum that would ask Montanans to vote on “defining the scope and boundaries for K-12 sex education.” Smith also requested another bill draft “defining scope/boundaries of human sexuality/reproduction education K-12." Like most bill requests, the text of that draft legislation isn’t yet available on the public website.

Smith also requested a bill for a constitutional referendum “amending the right to a clean and healthful environment.”

Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has requested several bills that would deal with federal laws, such as “prohibiting enforcement of any federal ban on semi-automatic firearms/magazines; generally nullifying EPA directives, generally nullifying the federal Patient Protection and Affordability Act, and a draft captioned “federal law enforcement officers should communicate with sheriff.” Kerns also requested a draft for a referendum revising concealed weapons laws, but has put that request on hold.

Veteran lawmakers tend to sponsor more bills, but some Yellowstone County newcomers are helping to fill the hopper, too.

Freshman Rep. Clayton Fiscus, R-Billings, has requested bills to “emphasize critical thinking in science education,” and a referendum to eliminate a certain amount of the homestead property value.

Contrast the bill ideas mentioned above with the list filed so far by Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, who is Senate president. In his fifth regular session as a senator, Essmann has requested drafts to revise laws on the coal board and its grants and to revise laws related to process servers. Both are practical issues that only state lawmakers can address.

Lawmakers have just 90 working days to complete the state budget. We urge all senators and representatives to focus on that critical responsibility and to scrutinize all other legislation to determine whether it’s necessary and consistent with what Montana voters want.

Lawmakers should put priority on addressing practical state policy changes that will improve Montanan’s economy and quality of life. They ought not waste time debating federal laws that only Congress can change or turning hot-button ideological issues into referendums. Local school boards are responsible to their communities for deciding how to teach their students. The Legislature should not abdicate its duty to make legislative decisions, nor overstep into other jurisdictions.

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