Montana Editorial Roundup
Bozeman Daily Chronicle, March 5, on bipartisan land package giving hope:
As Americans stress over a dysfunctional government in Washington, at least Montanans have something to celebrate: a bipartisan effort to protect land north of Yellowstone from mining.
The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act was folded into a much larger Natural Resource Management Act through the cooperative efforts of the state’s congressional delegation: Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte, both Republicans, and Democrat Sen. Jon Tester. The bill also makes permanent the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has been an important source of funding for public recreation access in Montana. The entire measure garnered overwhelming bipartisan support in the House and Senate. And President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.
Also to be celebrated are the efforts of diverse interests in Paradise Valley and Livingston, which came together to advocate for the mining ban. The ban on mining on 30,000 acres of public land north of the park is widely believed to make two mining proposals there no longer financially viable. The ban is critical to maintaining environmental and scenic integrity of Paradise Valley — a major gateway to Yellowstone.
It is a rare win in environmental efforts to curb destructive mining practices on public lands, which are still largely governed by a nearly 150-year federal old law. The ban acknowledges there are some places that just are not appropriate for large scale mining and its environmental consequences.
The LWCF gets revenue from offshore drilling royalties. Those funds are distributed across the nation for conservation projects. In Montana, the money has been used to secure fishing access sites and even city parks. Money for the LWCF still must be secured through the appropriations process. The Montana delegation is strongly encouraged to advocate for the maximum appropriation for the fund.
This success is a bright spot in an otherwise divisive and hostile atmosphere in D.C. It proves there are areas where both parties can come together when common interests are found. Let’s hope it serves as an example for potential successes and leads to other areas of cooperation on constructive legislation.
Billings Gazette, March 4, on keeping measles out of Montana:
Most Americans over the age of 60 had measles as children because there was no vaccine to prevent it. The old days weren’t good days:
- Measles made children sick for weeks with fever, rash, runny nose and red eyes.
- The disease is especially hard on kids under age 5.
- About one in four Americans with measles wound up hospitalized.
- One in 1,000 developed brain swelling with possible brain damage.
- One every 1,000 U.S. cases resulted in death, even with hospital care.
Measles is terribly contagious. It can be transmitted through air by the cough or sneeze of an infected person and the virus may remain in a room for up to two hours after the sick person has left.
Medical scientists declared measles eliminated in the United States in 2000, yet there have been cases every year since then because the disease persists in much of the rest of the world. This year, a traveler brought measles home to Portland, Oregon, where an unusually large number of parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children. The resulting outbreak spread to a neighboring county in Washington state. Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 21, there had been 159 cases of measles reported in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Legislatures in Washington and several other states are considering action to tighten immunization laws and protect their citizens from preventable disease. But in Montana, the 2019 Legislature has considered half a dozen bills that would weaken vaccination requirements.
Fortunately, most of those anti-vaccine bills are now dead. However, dozens of Montana lawmakers supported these bad bills after hearing outrageously false and misleading claims from vaccine opponents.
Rep. Teresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, sponsored the two worst anti-science, anti-vaccine bills. One would have abolished requirements for children to be immunized before they are placed in daycare. The other would have axed the rule that licensed foster parents have to keep their own children’s immunizations up to date.
“Childcare directors and owners are not going to want children in their programs who have not been vaccinated,” said Rep. Kathy Kelker, D-Billings, a former Head Start director, during the Friday floor debate on the daycare bill, House Bill 575. “Child care directors want the safest possible situation for their children. They don’t want liability for kids getting sick.”
Kelker, Rep. Geraldine Custer, R-Forsyth, and Rep. Sharon Greef, R-Florence, spoke in support of immunizations, recalling their childhoods before vaccines were available — when parents feared polio and other diseases that now are rare in the United States because of vaccines.
While the House debated vaccine law Friday morning, the scientifically proven benefits of childhood immunization were discussed at the RiverStone Board of Health’s monthly meeting in Billings.
“There’s a lot of misinformation, a lot of emotion, a lot of beliefs that are simply not facts,” said Michael Dennis, a retired professor of immunology, toxicology and microbiology, who serves on the Board of Health. “We have to consider the benefits vs. the risks of vaccines and the public health. Vaccines protect the individual and the public as well.”
“The vaccines available for routine use have been rigorously tested and are continuously monitored,” Dennis said. That monitoring includes required reporting of adverse events that may be related to vaccination. This monitoring data debunks the anti-vaccination myths, but scary vaccine stories get repeated by folks who don’t know they are false.
If HB575 had become law, Montana would have been the only state in the Union that allowed unvaccinated children to be in licensed daycare when they had no medical reason to avoid the vaccine.
Thanks to the 68 Montana representatives who voted for protecting children’s health in daycare and against HB575. Thanks to the 60 representatives who voted against HB574 and for keeping foster babies protected from preventable diseases.
Montana law doesn’t force parents to vaccinate their children. However, if the children don’t have a medical exemption, they could be excluded from school in the event of an outbreak of a disease they lack immunization against.
It’s been 40 years since Yellowstone County reported a case of measles, but the disease is only a plane ride away. Bozeman reported several cases of mumps last month. That vaccine-preventable disease can cause permanent sterility in young men. Seems like that should be motivation to get immunized.
Parents deserve to have factual answers to questions about childhood vaccinations. Your child’s pediatrician or family physician is the best source of medical advice for your child. There’s also good information online at cdc.gov and the American Academy of Pediatrics website, aap.org.
Missoulian, March 3, on 5 ‘silly bills’ introduced by Montana legislators this session:
It was New York lawyer, politician and newspaper editor Gideon John Tucker who famously noted, way back in the 19th century, that “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”
And so it is with Montana’s Legislature. With due respect to the many serious matters taken up by our duly elected legislators, each session seems to bring its share of undeniably silly bills as well — and the current session is, unfortunately, no exception.
In past years, legislators have wasted their time contemplating such varied proposals as a measure to prevent foreign laws from taking over state courts, legislation to allow public corporal punishment in place of jail time and a bill condoning the hunting of wild game with spears.
With that precedent in place, this session was bound to see a few head-scratchers as well, especially considering that nearly 700 more bill draft requests were submitted in the first month of 2019 than in the previous session.
Here, in no particular order, are five “silly bills” introduced by legislators this session. This list is by no means comprehensive or definitive, as the silliness of any given bill is, of course, an entirely subjective matter. No doubt the legislators who introduced these proposals thought them deserving of serious deliberation.
Rep. Greg DeVries, R-Jefferson City, for one, thought his bill to eliminate Montana’s education attendance requirements was necessary to “restore freedom to families, taking children back from the state and returning them to sole authority of their parents,” as he explained to the House Education Committee. But he also compared public schools to “prison and internment camps.”
In Montana, parents who teach their children at home or enroll them in private or alternative schools are required to track the number of instruction hours those children receive in order to ensure their right to an education is not neglected.
Unsurprisingly, the committee tabled DeVries’ House Bill 303, which came with a fiscal note assuming the bill would result in higher dropout rates.
Every session, at least one legislator forwards some dubious idea that manages to embarrass Montana on a national scale. This year, that distinction went to Senate President Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, for his plan to introduce a bill donating $8 million in state money to help fund the construction of a border wall. No, not along the border Montana shares with Canada; rather, the one that separates the United States from Mexico.
Even if Montana was bursting with a surplus of revenue, it’s a safe bet state legislators could find a better use for 8 million taxpayer dollars. While that money would be only a drop in the federal bucket of billions spent on border security, those dollars could go a long way toward state efforts to improve the safety of Montana residents.
Unfortunately, using their state platform to meddle in international matters is a temptation too many legislators fail to resist — a temptation which Ronan Republican Rep. Joe Read gave into not once this session, but twice.
His House Bill 415 would have prohibited Montana from following federal greenhouse gas regulations, and barred state officials from serving on any federal board tasked with crafting rules for greenhouse gas emissions. The bill earned near-unanimous opposition from every corner, including representatives of state agencies, environmental groups, oil and gas interests and others. In fact, Read admitted that the bill missed its intended mark, and offered a lighthearted apology for “offending the whole state” before the Energy, Technology and Federal Relations moved to table it.
That same day, Read’s House Bill 418 met the same fate in the House Natural Resources Committee. This measure would have “clarified” Montana’s official position on global warming and greenhouse gases, and adjusted state policies to suit. Specifically, it would have forced the state to ignore the overwhelming body of international scientific evidence that shows human emissions of carbon dioxide are influencing climate change. It sought to declare certain findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “invalid” and state that another group, the National Academy of Sciences, “is also fundamentally wrong about climate change.”
Like these four proposals, perhaps the silliest bill of the session is one that appears to be dead for the moment. Unlike these others, however, House Bill 392 would not have had any measurable negative impact had it been approved. That’s because it would have merely declared the “Hippy Hippy Shake” the official rock and roll song of Montana.
Never mind that Montana already has at least three other official songs: a state song, a state ballad and a state lullaby. What’s next? An official state butterfly, state grass, state soil? Oh wait — never mind.
Introduced by Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, the HB 392 explains that the “Hippy Hippy Shake” was written in 1959 by Billings-born Robert Lee “Chan” Romero when he was a 17-year-old student at Billings Senior High School, and that the original demo tape was recorded at a studio in Billings in 1958 before it went on to fame and glory as a Beatles tune.
Aside from the obvious problem of the bill stating that the song was written in the year after it was recorded, the text of the measure concludes with an arguable declaration: “WHEREAS, Montanans shake it to the left and shake it to the right, and do everything with all of their might.”
Perhaps quibbling over the truth of this statement is what caused the bill, which received strong initial support in the House Administration Committee, to fall victim to repeated attempts at amendments and divided votes. The first two motions to amend failed, the second two were successful, and on its final reading on the House floor, the amended version of the bill failed on a 63-37 vote, meaning it is likely dead for the session.
But there’s no telling yet whether it — or any number of superfluous legislative proposals — will make an appearance in the next legislative session.