Nicotine vaping devices, such as the "pods" and "mods" pictured here, are popular with younger people. Credit: JOHN ADAMS / MTFP

HELENA — Lawmakers will debate e-cigarettes, internet speeds, rock ’n’ roll and more as the 66th Montana Legislature starts its seventh week of the session.

All committee hearings are open to the public, and anyone can comment in favor or opposition to a bill. Alternatively, committee hearings can be streamed live on the Montana Legislative Branch website.

Here are our highlights of hearings to follow the week of Feb. 18.

Lawmaker looks to ban vaping in public schools

Teens used vaping devices in 2018 more than any year before, according to a national survey by Monitoring the Future. More than 20 percent of high school seniors reported vaping in the previous month. The trend has public health officials and educators around the U.S. exploring new strategies to curb the use of e-cigarettes, vape pens, mods, pods and e-juice devices among young people.

Rep. Fred Anderson, R-Great Falls, is carrying a bill that would address the issue by banning vaping at elementary and secondary schools. Montana state law already prohibits tobacco in public schools with students under 18, and House Bill 413 would add “vapor products” and “alternative nicotine products” to the list. The ban would apply in school buildings, on school grounds and on school buses. Violators would be subject to Montana Clean Indoor Air Act penalties, which include a warning for the first offense and escalate to a $500 fine for multiple violations.

The House Business and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on HB 413 at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19, in Room 172.

Bills might give predatory animals more protection

Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman, is carrying two bills aimed at offering more safeguards to foxes, coyotes, wolves, and other predators that sometimes target livestock.

Individuals, clubs and other organizations are currently barred from offering contests or prizes for the capture or killing of game, fur-bearers and other protected animals in Montana. Senate Bill 186 specifically adds predators to that list. Violation of the contest law could result in fines up to $1,000 and jail time of up to six months.

Senate Bill 187 limits how hunters can use motorized vehicles to stalk predators in Montana. The bill allows vehicles to pursue the animals, but they can’t be used to deliberately injure or kill a predator. Violation of the rule would result in loss of hunting and fishing licenses and could result in fines or prison time.

Both bills will have their first hearing at the Senate Fish and Game Committee at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19, in Room 422.

Bill channels tax incentives into faster internet speeds

Montana struggles with internet access, so much so that in 2013 Gizmodo called the state an “enormous internet hole.” Despite efforts to bring more connectivity to the state, especially in rural areas, Montana remains among the worst states for internet download speeds, according to the most recent Speedtest national analysis.

Senate Bill 239 could encourage faster internet connections by offering tax breaks to businesses installing fiber optic cable. The bill would extend perks to facilities associated with fiber installation by exempting them from property taxes during construction and for five years after. Taxes then phase back in by 20 percent each year. Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, is sponsoring the bill.

The Senate Taxation Committee will hold a hearing on SB 239 at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19, in Room 405.

Voters could get guaranteed time to visit the polls

Most Western states mandate paid time off for citizens to vote (and two states vote by mail), but Montana and Idaho remain outliers with no guaranteed time off on Election Day. House Bill 448 would require Montana employers to offer at least two hours of paid time so workers can cast their votes. The law wouldn’t apply to employers that already offer Election Day as a paid holiday or if an employee only works half the hours that the polls are open.

Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena, is sponsoring the bill. HB 448 will have its first hearing in the House Business and Labor Committee at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19, in Room 172.

Montana could get a state rock ’n’ roll song

In the late 1950s, Robert Lee “Chan” Romero, a teenager from Billings, wrote a song called “Hippy Hippy Shake.” The song caught the attention of a California record executive and later caught the attention of Paul McCartney. The Beatles made the song a regular part of their performance rotation.

Romero was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame for the hit in 2007. Now Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, wants to make “Hippy Hippy Shake” Montana’s official rock ’n’ roll song. House Bill 392 honors Romero’s achievements and recognizes that “Montanans shake it to the left and shake it to the right, and do everything with all of their might.” The bill will have its first hearing in the House State Administration Committee at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20, in Room 455.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Rep. Moffie Funk’s name. We regret the error. 

Leia is an award-winning journalist who has covered the environment and public policy in Colorado, Utah, and Montana. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Colorado Boulder.