Montana Legislature: 5 bills to follow the week of Feb. 21

HB 203 would create the Montana Energy and Security Act, supplying up to $500 million in state bonds to buy coal plants and establishing a five-person public power commission to purchase Montana coal plants and oversee them as state-owned assets. (John Adams/Montana Free Press)

(Montana Free Press) Youth suicide, honoring an officer, coal plants, switchblades, and plastic straws: Lawmakers have a lot to discuss during Week 3 of the legislative session. Here are a handful of topics to follow.

Bill honors fallen Broadwater County deputy

The murder of Broadwater County Deputy Mason Moore in 2017 shook Montana’s law enforcement community. This session, Rep. Julie Dooling, R-Helena, wants to recognize Moore by renaming Highway 287, where the deputy lost his life, in his honor. HB 156 would create the Mason Moore Memorial Highway and place signs with the officer’s name, badge number, and date of death at mile marker 109. The current bill draft does not specify how much of the highway will be included, but it directs Department of Transportation to include the Mason Moore memorial highway on state maps. The House Transportation Committee will hear the bill at 3 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 21, in Room 455.

Lawmaker proposes state purchase of Colstrip power plant

As neighboring states reduce their use of fossil fuels for energy production, shutdowns loom over coal mining and power generation in Colstrip. Rep. Rodney Garcia, R-Billings, suggests the state step in and save the town with HB 203. The bill would create the Montana Energy and Security Act, supplying up to $500 million in state bonds to buy coal plants and establishing a five-person public power commission to purchase Montana coal plants and oversee them as state-owned assets. Garcia told the Billings Gazette that he drafted the legislation in response to Colstrip workers’ concerns. The House Committee on Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations will hold a hearing on HB 203 at 3 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 21, in Room 472.

House explores strategies for youth health and safety

Three bills are on the docket this week that address issues facing Montana’s teenagers and school-age kids.

HB 187 would channel $1.6 million from the state’s General Fund to the Department of Health and Human Services to provide grants for youth suicide prevention programs. A companion bill, HB 186, would create a two-year depression and mental health screening pilot program in schools supported by $1 million from the General Fund. Both bills are sponsored by Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena. The House Human Services Committee will hear the bills at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 22, in Room 152.

HB 178 would prohibit texting and driving by minors, with fines starting at $50 for the first offense and rising to $200 for the third offense. The House Transportation Committee will consider the bill at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 23, in Room 455.

Senate considers single-use plastics

Plastic straws created quite a stir in 2018, with airlines, cities, and restaurants nationwide placing restrictions or outright bans on the products. Montana lawmakers will mull their own straw regulations with SB 120, sponsored by Sen. Sue Malek, D-Missoula. The bill would prohibit restaurants from providing plastic straws unless a customer specifically asks for one.

Malek is also sponsoring SB 121, which would impose a 4-cent fee on each single-use carry-out bag provided by retailers. The bill would also require plastic and paper bags in Montana to be 100-percent recyclable and printed with the phrase “Please recycle this bag.”

Both bills will be heard by the Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs Committee at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 23, in Room 422.

A state ban on switchblades could get cut

In the 1950s, a wave of panic about switchblades and gang violence swept the nation, resulting in a ban on the knives that lingers today. HB 155, sponsored by Casey Knudsen, R-Malta, would repeal Montana’s switchblade law. Currently, it’s illegal to carry a switchblade in the state or have one in a car, offenses punishable by a $500 fine and up to six months in prison. Collectors are allowed to own switchblades, however, if they register the knives with their county sheriff.

The House Judiciary Committee will have a hearing on the bill on Monday, Jan. 21, in Room 137. Even if HB 155 passes, the 1958 Federal Switchblade Act still prohibits importing switchblades or purchasing them through interstate commerce.