Saturday, March 02, 2024

Early wins for hunting, huckleberries, veterans and accountability

by Steve Hinebauch and Tom McGillvray
| January 17, 2023 12:00 AM

What do hunting, huckleberries, honoring our veterans, and accountability for taxpayer money have in common? Two things. The first is that they’re all strongly supported by Montanans. The second is that we’re already well on our way to putting big wins on the board this legislative session that involve all of them.

Let’s start with hunting. We recently had the first hearing on a bill that will double the annual cap on money that private landowners can receive for allowing public hunters onto their properties via the Block Management Program. Senate Bill 58 will sustain and improve hunters’ access to many prime hunting grounds located on private property while benefiting landowners who participate in block management. The bill is a win for taxpayers because block management is funded by hunters, not general taxpayers. It’s also a win for conservation because it allows the state to more effectively manage our wildlife. SB 58 drew universal support in its first committee hearing.

When it comes to accountability for taxpayer money, a bill has been introduced to strengthen the position of auditors in examining our state government’s operations and expenditures. No entity does more to expose and correct waste, fraud, and abuse in Montana’s government than the Legislative Audit Division. Senate Bill 73 ensures elected officials and senior-level bureaucrats will cooperate with auditors by putting criminal penalties in place if they obstruct or unduly delay auditors’ access to needed information.

Over on the House side of the Legislature is where veterans and huckleberries come in. The House recently advanced a bill to create a veterans cemetery in Columbia Falls that will be open to the closest nine counties in the region, honoring those who’ve served our country with a dedicated final resting place. The vote to advance House Bill 81 was unanimous.

Finally, huckleberries. Since 2007 there has been a government regulation in place that says people are supposed to report the locations of their huckleberry patches. Unsurprisingly, no one has done that. It’s an unused and unnecessary regulation, and getting rid of it is part of the Governor and Legislature’s Red Tape Relief initiative. House Bill 94 is the “huckleberry freedom bill” repealing that regulation and it has had its first hearing in the House.

Besides being strongly supported by Montanans and receiving attention early in the legislative session, these four topics also have one more thing in common: all the bills are sponsored by Republican lawmakers. Sen. Steve Hinebauch, R-Wibaux, is sponsoring the block management bill. Sen. Tom McGillvray, R-Billings, is the sponsor of the audit bill. Representatives Braxton Mitchell, R-Columbia Falls, and Paul Green, R-Hardin, are the sponsors of the veterans cemetery and huckleberry bills, respectively.

As two of the Majority Whips serving in the Senate, we’re happy to report that Republicans are putting diverse, early wins on the board for Montanans this legislative session.

Sen. Tom McGillvray, R-Billings, is the sponsor of SB 73. Sen. Steve Hinebauch, R-Wibaux, is the sponsor of SB 58.

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