Dense white smoke rising from the raging wildfire. Credit: ADOBE STOCK

As legislators square off over the state budget, Medicaid expansion and coal power, some of this week’s other hearings focus on resolutions to create interim studies to examine everything from pornography as a public health hazard to the health hazard wildfire smoke poses to communities.

Resolution blames societal ills on pornography

In a bill introduced on April 10, Rep. Jessica Karjala, D-Billings, blames pornography for the increase of sex trafficking of children, the use of drugs among adolescents, and an increase of “deviant sexual arousal.”

House Resolution 5 would have the House of Representatives declare pornography to be a “public health hazard leading to harmful individual and public health impacts and societal harms.” The bill also calls on prosecutors in Montana to vigorously enforce laws prohibiting sexual violence and prostitution.

If passed, the Montana Secretary of State would also be required to send a copy of the bill to President Donald Trump and Congressional leaders, among others.

HR 5 gets its first hearing in the House Human Services Committee on Tuesday, April 16 at 3 p.m. in Room 152.

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Proposed committee to study public transportation

In Montana, Amtrak only has one passenger line, the Empire Builder, which serves Hi-Line communities between Wolf Point and Libby, terminating in Chicago, Seattle and Portland. Most Montanans don’t live near enough that route to use it, and a previous route, the North Coast Hiawatha, shadowing the state’s larger communities on Interstate Highways 90 and 94, discontinued service in 1979.

A congressionally mandated Amtrak study published in 2009 said it would take up to 5 years and a billion dollars to get the North Coast Hiawatha rolling again.

Citing the North Coast Hiawatha’s demise, and the lack of public transportation in some communities, Rep. Andrea Olsen, D-Missoula, introduced House Joint Resolution 34 to create an interim committee to study possible improvements to passenger transportation services in Montana.

Communities underserved by public transportation are represented by bipartisan lawmakers, and HJ 34 easily passed the House Transportation Committee earlier this month. Rep. Joel Krautter, R-Sidney, said at a committee hearing that a lack of transportation makes it difficult for his constituents to travel to Helena to make their voices heard, according to the Great Falls Tribune.

Votes on the House floor were closer, but HJ 34 passed and is scheduled for its first hearing with the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee on Tuesday, April 16 at 3 p.m. in Room 405.

Workers comp for volunteer firefighters

Several bills expanding access to workers’ compensation for volunteer firefighters are working their way through the legislature. One bill, which extends workers comp coverage to include diseases common to the profession, has easily passed committee and floor votes in both houses.

But the expansion of workers’ comp benefits doesn’t help volunteer firefighters if their employers are allowed to deny them. To address this issue, Senate Bill 29, proposed by Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, would require all employers to provide worker’s compensation to all volunteer firefighters.  

Current law says offering workers’ comp is optional, and opponents worry small local governments will have to shut down their volunteer firefighting programs, as they cannot afford to insure them.

Thomas said before a January floor vote in the Senate that employers are currently required to provide workers’ comp to professional firefighters and that volunteers deserve the same protections.

SB 29 passed the Senate and is scheduled for a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, April 17 at 8 a.m. in Room 137.

A study to filter out wildfire smoke

A bill, citing the health danger posed by increasingly intensive fire seasons, proposes an interim study of retrofitting Montana buildings with air filtration units cites.

In support of the study, House Joint Resolution 42 references the 43-day inundation of harmful wildfire smoke in Seeley Lake in 2017, which a Missoula City-County Health Department air quality specialist called the worst in Missoula County’s history in a Seeley Swan Pathfinder column that summer.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Tom Winter, D-Missoula. His bill would establish an interim committee to assess current policy regarding wildfire smoke filtration in Montana buildings and to find ways to mitigate inhalation.

HJ 42 is scheduled for its first hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee on Monday, April 15 at 3 p.m. in Room 172.

A study in bullies

A bill introduced by Rep. Barry Usher, R-Billings, on April 11 seeks to set up an interim study on bullying.

The bill, House Joint Resolution 56, mentions the 2015 passage of The Bully-Free Montana Act, but says bullying remains a significant problem and that “modern technology and social media can exacerbate the harm done through bullying.”

Usher’s interim committee would look into how effective the Bully-Free Montana Act has been, and what changes could be done to reduce bullying. The bill says the committee would involve input from the Office of Public Instruction, Board of Public Education and the Department of Public Health and Human Services, among other stakeholders.

Usher’s bill is scheduled for a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, April 16 at 8 a.m. in Room 137.

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Hunter Pauli is a Seattle-born, Missoula-based freelance investigative reporter and a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism.You can follow Hunter on Twitter.