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Senator Jeff Welborn’s Weekly Report

First, some interesting legislation we have been working on regarding how aerial

attack fire fighting is being done, and a new tool to help in that effort.

People who fly the drones over wild land fires could soon face criminal penalties

under a bill gaining traction at the Montana Legislature.

Unauthorized drone flights over wild land fires frequently leave fire managers no

choice but to suspend aerial firefighting operations.

The genesis behind this bill culminated last summer when a curious fire watcher

drone, grounded critical aerial firefighting aircraft outside of Helena.

Not only was this a significant risk to aviators, but severely limited our fire

suppression capabilities when they were needed most.

State Sen. Willis Curdy, a Democrat from Missoula, says civilians using drones

to monitor or photograph wild land firefighting operations currently face the

possibility of getting slapped with civil penalties. Senate Bill 219 intends to raise

the stakes.

It now would make the infraction a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to

$1,500 and six months in jail. An amendment tacked on in My Senate Natural

Resources Committee, would permit law enforcement to “use reasonable force”

to disable a drone.

Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton supports the bill and says that he

particularly appreciates that amendment if it leads to saving lives and property.

The bill passed the Senate last month with a 37-10 vote. The House Natural

Resources Committee Wednesday took no action on the bill.

Now from a more high level look into what is happing overall this session, i'd like

to share some perspective.

Recently in major news papers, and social media in Montana, much of the

coverage of our legislative session, seems to be dedicated to pulling together

headlines that stirs the viewer’s biases. Make no mistake, I have colleagues on

both sides of the aisle who feed these culture wars, offering what I call “red

meat” policies, aimed less at solving a problem, and more at provoking a

lawsuit. While I typically vote against any policy that inserts more government in

peoples lives, or erodes local control, freedom of personal expression, and

religion, to healthcare access, and private property rights, less Government in

our lives means just that. With that being said, the headlines of modern culture

wars, overshadow, the positive news stories about how the 2023 Montana

legislature has fared on kitchen table issues, that often get missed.

That's unfortunate, because at this point in the legislative session, we have seen

significant, and often bipartisan progress on important issues that impact the

daily lives and pocket books of all Montanans:

Regarding Tax relief:

The 2023 Legislature has already sent a package of bills to Gov. Greg

Gianforte’s desk representing the largest tax cut in Montana history. These

measures deliver nearly a billion dollars in tax relief to Montanans suffering from

heightened inflation by permanently reducing the income tax rate, providing

income and property tax rebates, and dropping nearly 5,000 small businesses

from the business equipment tax rolls. These tax measures are the fruit of the

Legislature’s past commitment to fiscally conservative budgeting, which made

room for this historic tax relief.

Regarding Healthcare:

The Legislature has advanced at least eight proposals aimed at addressing

healthcare workforce shortages by eliminating occupational licensure red tape.

HB 152 from Rep. Bill Mercer, the signature 2023 bill of the Governor’s Red Tape

Relief Initiative, streamlines the entire occupational licensure system to make it

easier for licensed healthcare professionals coming from other states to get

quickly licensed to work in Montana. SB 112 from Sen. Tom McGillvray and HB

313 from Rep. Jodee Etchart will leverage Montana pharmacists and physician

assistants to fill gaps in our healthcare system, especially in rural underserved

areas, by providing them with greater authority to treat and care for patients

under their license.

On Education Policy:

The Legislature has advanced several proposals to empower parents with more

choice in their child’s education. Also are proposals on better and more efficient

reporting requirements with The Office of Public Instruction. We have also

passed funding for educational opportunity for students entering career level

educational opportunities aside from traditional higher ed.

From my perspective the Montana Legislature is quietly delivering on serious,

mostly bi-partisan policies of fiscal responsibility, economic freedom, and red

tape relief.

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