HELENA — A veteran Missoula lawmaker wants to eliminate state holidays on Election Day and Columbus Day.
Rep. Diane Sands, a Democrat, is having bills drafted for the 2011 Legislature to get rid of these days off, although she probably would create a floating holiday to replace Election Day.
"Election Day was created to give people time off work to vote," she said Friday. "It seems to me that it's not serving its original purpose since so many people are voting absentee."
Sands said she intends to tie her proposal to another legislator's separate bill to change Montana's current election system to a statewide vote-by-mail system.
"If we do an all-mail ballot, there's no reason for it," she said of the holiday.
Sands said she sees no need to for the Columbus Day holiday to honor Christopher Columbus.
"Columbus Day has been a contentious day for some time," said Sands. "I don't see the point in holding a holiday honoring an Italian who got lost looking for India and didn't discover an already inhabited country."
Sands said she understands the need to appreciate different heritages, as the Irish do with St. Patrick's Day and the Italians do for Columbus Day, but they don't need to be state holidays.
"We don't do it for every culture," she said. "Why should we do it for Columbus Day? The country was already inhabited by indigenous people here. I think it hides the conquering of native people by Europeans and the destruction of indigenous culture."
California has dropped Columbus Day as a state holiday, she said, while South Dakota instead celebrates the day as Native American Day.
Sands said she would drop Columbus Day as a holiday but not replace it with another day off because "there's no point to the other one."
"I didn't do it particularly as a way to save the state money," Sands said. "I think having days off is an important part of employment."
She said she is a fan of Susan B. Anthony and takes off Feb. 15 to honor the women's suffrage leader.
"We all kind of look at different holidays because they mean something differently to all of us," she said.
Sands said she has not yet spoken to leaders of unions that represent state employees, but said she suspects that they might object to losing a paid holiday.
Eric Feaver, president of the MEA-MFT union that represents educators and state employees, said he wasn't aware of the bills.
The two holidays are part of the benefits that state employees receive, he said.
"I'm hearing a lot of positive things on the all-mail ballot," Feaver said. "I wouldn't want to see folks say that kills a holiday if we do away with Election Day (as a holiday)."
He said he wasn't sure about creating a floating holiday that employees could use whenever they want because the state could wind up with critical employees gone on the same day.
He agreed with Sands that Columbus Day has become a contentious holiday, but declined to weigh in on its merits.
"I don't see us going to the Legislature as a representative of state employees and saying we want to cut that benefit," Feaver said.