Though Monday will be "April Fools' Day," there's not a lot funny in the Legislature this time of year.
Monday also marks the transmittal deadline for most bills still living in Helena. For those non-parliamentary or civics nerds, that means that if a bill doesn't clear at least one of the two houses, the House or the Senate, it will die. In other words, it's the last chance for many laws.
And as much legislation that has already been left behind for the interim committees, plenty of good has come from this legislative session, including two bills that have a direct impact on this part of Montana.
We have strongly supported the efforts to build a new state historical society because the old Eisenhower-era building is just too cramped and outdated to house our heritage and treasures.
We've said it before: Montana is a place in love with its own history. But more than that, others love our history and we love sharing it. Yet, the current facilities are supremely inadequate to showcase the best of our heritage. And, with tourism being the state's second-largest industry, we cannot fully capitalize on the history if it's crammed in basements and storage. Montana, which takes such immense pride in our history, should also be able to display it properly.
Senate Bill 338, sponsored by Sen. Terry Guathier, R-Helena, was a perfect solution. His bill passed its third reading on Friday, 33-16, and moves on to the House.
We hope that representatives there receive it as warmly as the Senate and move it along quickly. We also hope that if it makes it to Gov. Steve Bullock's desk that he'll sign it, and we can make plans for not only a new history center near the Capitol, but also support celebrate a local treasure, the Moss Mansion. That historic mansion would get $400,000 in the bill.
We're disappointed to see several of our Billings-area lawmakers not get behind the bill that will see nearly a half-million dollars come to Billings to restore and maintain the Moss Mansion. Sens. Roger Webb, Cary Smith and Doug Kary all voted against it.
We hope that the House lawmakers, especially those from Yellowstone County show more support for it.
We're also pleased that House Bill 640 which revised the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse sailed through the House.
Though the bill was somewhat watered down from what had originally been proposed, we choose to support it because, in this case, the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.
And this is good legislation.
The most important aspect of this bill was completely eliminating the section of law that put a limitation on criminal charges for sex crimes against children. Previously, prosecutors could not charge someone with a sex crime if the victim was beyond the age of 27.
If this bill passes the Senate and is signed into law, Montana will have no criminal statute of limitation for sex crimes committed against children. Earlier versions of the bill also removed the limitations in civil suits. Those have since been modified, but not eliminated.
We congratulate the lawmakers for recognizing that our understanding of crimes against children and how they get reported has changed. Because of that, our laws must also change. If this bill is successful, it means that the simple passage of time will not be the only barrier to a victim receiving justice.
This law was spurred on largely because of the case against James E. "Doc" Jensen, a former "athletic trainer" in Miles City, Montana, who federal authorities say may have had "hundreds" of victims. Because of the statute of limitations in state law, prosecutors have been virtual unable to bring charges against Jensen for allegations by the victims. The case has spurred outrage and action by lawmakers who want to correct the law so that history doesn't repeat itself.
We believe that both funding for our history, and changing the law for future generations of children has demonstrated that lawmakers have done much good. Now it's up to the lawmakers in both chambers to finish the good work of their colleagues.