Published March 23, 2011
A spate of unusual bills by newly elected Republican majority lawmakers in Montana is drawing criticism and even ridicule, especially from the state's Democratic governor, as Tea Party-backed lawmakers in states across the West shake things up in their capitols.
"Some of these legislators, they draft bills just to get an effect from the people," Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer told Fox News. "And unfortunately, it kind of makes some of them look bat-crap crazy."
Montana is among several states where legislators who rode last year's Tea Party wave into office have offered unusual bills.
In Utah, lawmakers passed a bill, not yet signed by the governor, requiring gold and silver be recognized as legal tender. A bill in South Dakota, introduced to mock the health care law that mandates individuals buy insurance, would require adults in the state to carry a gun. Another bill in Georgia would do away with requiring drivers to have a license -- because driving should be considered an "inalienable right."
But for sheer volume, Montana's Tea Party-inspired legislation takes the cake, Schweitzer said.
"We're talking about seceding from the union, or getting people who are getting a divorce to go through six more weeks of counseling before they can get a divorce, creating an 11-person Montana commission that can effectively veto any federal law. These are all bills that have been proposed in the Montana Legislature," he said.
Schweitzer did not mention Montana House Bill 278, which would authorize creating armed citizen militias able to repel invaders, presumably war-like Canadians.
In his office at the Montana State Capitol, the governor has a branding iron in the shape of the word "veto," which he likes to brandish when pointing out that bills like these have absolutely no chance of success while he's in office.
Even if they were to be signed into law, many of these measures would certainly be ruled unconstitutional in the courts. The governors calls others just plain nutty.
"We have a bill that proposes you can hunt with a spear. Now, in Montana we like to hunt and fish. We can hunt with a rifle, pistol, shotgun, musket loader. You can even hunt with a bow and arrow. A spear. In these very serious times to carry a bill so that we can hunt with a spear?" he asked.
"There's another bill that you could hunt with a silencer," he continued, mocking Rep. Krayton Kerns’ House Bill 174. "So if you're a dang poor shot, and you've shot 12 times at an elk and missed all 12 times, you don't want them hearing you and running away, you want a 13th attempt."
Kern’s bill noted that silencers are legal in Montana except when used for poaching and that there is no federal law against hunting with one. The bill made it through the House but was ultimately tabled in a Senate committee.
The bill to allow spear hunting was ultimately tabled in the Montana House Fish, Wildlife and Parks committee, but not before it cleared the Senate. It begs the question of whether legislators, who claim to be for limited government and against wasting taxpayers' money, should be spending time and effort on bills like these.
"Those are just silly bills," Schwietzer said. "And I would ask the Montana Legislature, just kind of park that stuff. Let's get back to work making sure we're doing the things that matter. That's good leadership. Hunting with a silencer? Hunting with a spear? That's silly leadership.”
It may be easy to dismiss comments like Schweitzer's as an attempt by a Democrat to belittle the Tea Party movement, but a real danger does exist for the GOP just as the 2012 election campaigns get under way -- this scattershot of odd bills could create backlash among a general public crying for local, state and federal government to focus on jobs and the economy as the nation ever so slowly emerges from a two-year recession.