Legislative Day 37, Tuesday, Feb 19

  Every day, the Standing Committees of the Montana Legislature meet for hours to hold hearings on bills. The variety is amazing: bills that propose an alternative to the death penalty with life in prison without parole, tax credits for alternative energy systems and energy conservation measures, creating a Parks Board separate from the Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Commission, and the list goes on.

  Some ideas are very worthy: expanding the program for school lunches to more kids, increasing funds for public transportation (sometimes the only method of transportation for the disabled or the elderly, who might not have drivers licenses or vehicles, and for students and Montana families for whom the regularity and reliability of public transportation is the surest way of reaching school and work), funding our state computer systems to secure all of the data in state computers (one of my favorites; see my earlier post!), and offering responsible property tax relief to Montanans without jeopardizing the budget in future years.

  But some ideas make it out of committee that shouldn't, and that can be pretty painful. Take, for example, House Bill 392, allowing the excavation and sale of paleontological remains (fossils) from Makoshika State Park to benefit the park.

  Our state parks (and national parks) are formed to preserve and protect the natural environment for the enjoyment of all of us, and policies to date have secured everything in the parks from anyone's excavation or disturbance or vandalism to those treasures. You can't pick a flower in a national park, for heaven's sake. Nearly everyone has heard the saying, "Take only pictures, leave only footprints" in relation to our state and national parks? Can you imagine Pictograph Caves if someone were allowed to excise the pictographs from the rocks, or Lewis and Clark Caverns if someone were allowed to take the stalagmites and stalactites?

  The bill that proposes removal of fossils from Makoshika does say that "antiquities permits may be granted for the excavation and removal of paleontological remains at Makoshika state park for the purpose of selling the paleontological remains and using the revenue from the sale to benefit Makoshika state park" and that "The department may adopt rules establishing conditions for the use of antiquities permits granted", but who's to say that someone could excavate something quite precious and then report they'd found nothing? The dangers of privatizing our public resources are rife in this bill, but it passed the committee and is headed to the full House for a vote.

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