Montana Viewpoint


January 14, 2001

Usually I like to take on a big issue in my articles and beat it to death, but this week, it seems that so little happened in the “big picture” that I´m relegated to lumping together a bunch of little issues.

Folks who get driven to distraction by train horns will be happy to know that both Montana Rail Link and Burlington Northern Santa Fe are supporting my bill to eliminate whistle blowing at private crossings and also establishing “quiet zones” in towns and cities. The railroad unions have also expressed support. So, if luck is with us, we may soon hear a little less noise at night in rural areas. Folks in town won´t be so lucky right away. First, the federal government will have to pass Quiet Zone legislation, and then local towns and cities will have to pony up the money to install safety barriers at railroad crossings. The federal legislation was supposed to have been passed in the last session of congress, but didn´t make the deadline. The bill is still in the drafting stage, but I might introduce it as early as this week.

The big noise in last week´s Senate Education Committee was a set of bills, one of which would dictate to local school boards how teachers can dress, and the other requiring school boards to adopt uniforms for students. The sponsor, Senator Al Bishop, R-Billings, feels this would lower crime and generate self respect among students and faculty. He feels male teachers will feel better about themselves if they wear ties. There is, apparently, some evidence that truancy, rowdiness, and all around obstreperousness decline at schools that have adopted the mandatory wearing of school uniforms, usually a simple sport shirt and slacks for boys, and blouse and skirt for girls. Maybe so, but should the state be forcing schools to do this? When I asked Senator Bishop why he felt the state should take over the functions of local school boards, he said that school boards weren´t doing their jobs. You folks who serve for nothing in public service will be glad to hear about this. Senator Bishop is as well-intentioned and concerned as they come, but I think he´s on the wrong track here.

Our Senate State Administration Committee heard testimony on important Veterans´ issues. Any Vet knows that the system of health care delivery is inconvenient and difficult to understand. The Legislature is being asked to send Congress a Resolution to get the Feds off the dime, and give our Vets what they deserve. Two important related items were the issue of homeless and mentally disturbed Vets, and the (in my view) unconstitutional release of medical records to those law enforcement agencies concerned with screening applicants with mental instability for firearms purchase. It was an emotional hearing, and I was proud of the people who testified on behalf of their disenfranchised comrades.

I was lucky enough to run into some folks from home last week who were in Helena taking care of business. Brenda Kuester from Plains was representing Travel Montana´s Glacier county; Hot Spring´s Dan Oberlander was testifying in favor or a water system grant for the town of the same name; and Kevin Donally from Lozeau was in town with a group supporting agriculture. If you´re coming to Helena, for whatever reason, please give me a call so we can get together. Whether you´re there to testify on legislation or would just like to have a tour of the Capitol, I´d be tickled to see you and help you out any way I can.

Jim Elliott
Phone: 406-444-1556
Mail: State Senate Helena, MT 59620