Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: A Year of Good Works

On this last day of the year, many of us reflect on what's passed, and on what's to come. 2009 has been a tough year, but everyone I know--through adversity and worry--has kept working hard to stay afloat, to keep their families and friends upright, and to persevere. That's the Montana way.

2009 was action-packed. On January 5th, I took my oath of office in Montana's House of Representatives, serving my second term, and got right to work. I carried legislation to protect people's privacy with House Bill 155, which requires state government to develop processes to secure personal information and to notify people if ever that information is compromised or stolen. Just think of how much personal information is maintained in state computers: social security numbers, birth dates, property codes, maiden names, addresses and phone numbers, and it’s easy to realize that it’s imperative to protect that information. I presented HB155 on Day 4 of the 61st Legislative Session and I'm proud to have sponsored a good government bill, a pro-privacy, anti-identity theft bill.

Recently, I've worked to help Bozemanites get their unemployment claims processed and paid, and looking back on 2009, I was working on other unemployment and workers compensation details. In February, I presented a bill to the House Business and Labor committee to revise state statutes that discriminate between claims of injury and occupational disease for workers compensation. There are people whose workers compensation claims are being denied even though the Montana Supreme Court has clearly stated a problem with the statute. Unfortunately, the bill didn't pass, but the issue is being reviewed by an interim legislative committee.

I brought bills about gravel pits: for public notice and public hearing of proposed gravel pit operations with adjacent neighbors, and for county authority to establish conditional use permits for livability issues (dust control, weed management plans, truck routes, traffic control, hours of operation, lights at the site, noise) that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which issues gravel mining permits, does not manage. I presented bills for annual fees on gravel pit operators to fund the Opencut Mining Division of the DEQ, another to require reclamation and to limit the expansion of acreage, and to require monitoring wells and water samples and surface water runoff control for gravel pits that dig into the groundwater aquifer. These and other gravel legislation were either defeated or combined into a 'gravel omnibus' bill, which passed near the end of the session.

On March 5, Bozeman suffered a great loss: the downtown explosion took the life of one of our citizens and destroyed three buildings and six businesses. It damaged many more. I came to Bozeman an hour after I heard about the explosion, as did Governor Schweitzer, to offer all the resources of the state in helping Bozeman combat a raging natural gas fire that wouldn't be contained for another 22 hours and to help Bozeman recover from the blast. Our own local Montana National Guard troops helped at the site for 72 hours in inclement weather and with our city, county, and state emergency services. The morning after the explosion, I brought legislation to allow financial districts, like downtown Bozeman, to re-value the district after a disaster, a provision that didn't exist in state law. It was one way I could help my city. I worked hard with the governor's office to secure small business loans, on trying to get answers from NorthWestern Energy about the gas leak, explosion, and uncontrollable fire, and to help business owners recover. I'll do all I can until the block and businesses are back and better than ever, and to remember and honor Tara Bowman, our citizen killed in the blast.

One of my proudest moments in the legislature was the passage of the cancer drug donation program. House Bill 409 established the donation program to help cancer patients get drugs they cannot afford by distributing thousands of dollars of unused medication to patients instead of destroying the drugs. Now, unused, unopened cancer drugs can be donated to participating pharmacies and care facilities and re-dispensed to qualifying patients, who otherwise could not attain them because of their astronomical cost. The Montana Board of Pharmacy will soon adopt rules for the program, and I've helped friends and fellow Montanans with coverage trouble for cancer treatment; soon, one more aspect will be easier with donated cancer meds.

I serve on the Board of Directors of three organizations, all of whom have done great work this year. The Greater Gallatin Watershed Council released the results of E. coli bacteria sampling on Sourdough/Bozeman Creek. I designed a pamphlet with recommendations for people to minimize the contamination in the creek, to ask for volunteers to continue taking water samples for testing, and which warned of the health risks of some types of E. coli bacteria exposure. The pamphlet was distributed at the Watershed Festival and at points along the creek, and the Council board continues its monitoring.

I serve on the board of the Montana Business and Professional Women Foundation, and this year, we launched the Shooting Star financial assistance program for Montana women trying to gain education and professional development.

The Bozeman Cultural Council finished the Bozeman Cultural Plan, which inventories and promotes the arts, lifestyle, and culture of Bozeman. Other board members and I presented the plan to groups and hope to have it adopted by those groups, so that Bozeman culture in all its forms is appreciated, protected, grown, and promoted.

I traveled to Washington, D.C. with Montana business owners to lobby for health care reform. I serve also on the National Conference of State Legislatures committees for Energy and Natural Resources.

My home became more energy-efficient with the installation of solar hot water heat, a solotube for natural light, and a new roof. My energy footprint became smaller with a smart car!

I defended my alma mater and its sports teams (Go, Bobcats!). The NCAA issued a decision that would have prohibited states that allow sports games in lotteries and sports betting from hosting NCAA playoff games. After I spoke with the Attorney General's office and officials in the university system familiar with the policy, I felt sure that the NCAA would determine that the fears of influencing games could not happen in Montana; we don't have live sports betting, but lottery games with sports themes. It took two months and a meeting of chancellors and presidents in June in Indianapolis, but the NCAA found that all's well with NCAA sports and post-season game-hosting in Montana.

I serve on two legislative interim committees: the Water Policy Interim Committee (I'm a water wonk), and the Information Technology Board (I'm a computer geek, too.) I attended conferences and meetings about energy policy, renewable energy, coal, coalbed methane gas and the pumping of water to release that gas, and any number of other energy policies.

Recently, I've been working with the Montana Water Court to get updated water rights ownership information from the Department of Revenue and Department of Natural Resources and Conservation in the state database of water users. There are eleven decrees that the Water Court is waiting to issue until ownership records are updated.

I've helped Montanans get their unemployment claims processed and paid, and I've asked the Unemployment Insurance Division for information on the increased numbers of claims, the federal stimulus dollars that extend some benefits, and how to help the agency better and more quickly process claims.

As a report card, I hope this serves well to document some of the events and efforts of 2009.

I'm blessed with work on behalf of Montanans, and so proud to serve.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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