Update – Northwestern, bills, etc.

Dear MSSA Friends,

I’m just back from three days in Helena.

Monday morning, while awaiting the House Judiciary Committee hearing on our suppressor bill (SB 295), I got a call from and did an interview with a Fox News reporter in NYC who wanted to ask about the illogical fight Northwestern Energy picked with Montana gun owners.  The story that resulted from that interview is at:
http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/03/23/montana-utility-lobbies-against-gun-rights-expansion-bill/

Perhaps the most informative line in the story is this one:  "Reached Monday in his Helena office, [NWE lobbyist] Fitzpatrick referred FoxNews.com to a utility spokesman who declined comment on the bill."

Reading between the lines, NWE is now figuring out what a tremendous mistake it made opposing an RKBA bill that doesn’t affect NWE at all.  Before NWE was just circling the wagons over the criticism of its off-mission tinkering.  Now NWE is starting to hitch up the wagons and move them quietly back down the trail, in the dark.  Although NWE’s circle-the-wagons blog post is still up at:
http://www.northwesternenergy.com/news-center/northwestern-blog/nwe-blog-item/nwe-blog/2015/03/14/northwestern-provides-clarity-to-testimony-on-hb-598

I expect it may disappear soon.  NWE has maintained, even after the House Judiciary Committee amended HB 598 to cure even the most paranoid suspicion about effect on non-governmental agencies, "The company and Fitzpatrick said they are still opposed [to HB 598], and would not be intimidated."  LINK

Perhaps NWE’s institutional investors are hearing about this blowup, getting nervous, and calling in.  We’ll see.  Meanwhile, some MSSA folks suggest that all MSSA Friends buy just one share of NWE stock and begin to think about attending the NWE Annual Meeting in April to participate in that Meeting and the election/reelection of candidates for the NWE Board of Directors.  I’ll let you know if we come up with any concrete plan about that.

About HB 598’s possible application to a non-governmental entity (the NWE position), Al Smith, Helena attorney and lobbyist for the Montana Trial Lawyers Association said, "I don’t see any possibility for a private entity to be held liable under this bill, unless the private entity has contracted with a government to perform a governmental function."

At the House Judiciary Committee hearing on SB 295, MSSA’s bill to end the prohibition on suppressors for hunting, opposition came only from the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the lobbyist for Montana game wardens.  FWP’s opposition has become muted. FWP’s only remaining reason for opposition is no longer poaching, dead livestock, or "fair chase," but that suppressors will damage the image of hunting among the non-hunting public.  A member of the Committee asked the FWP opponent if he had any data to support that notion.  He didn’t.  Not very persuasive.  The HJC acted on SB 295 today, approving it.  SB 295 will now go to the House floor for Second Reading.  As soon as it is scheduled, we need to push hard on this.  I’ll let you know.

The hearing on HB 234, to prevent FWP from diverting and misusing the money the Legislature appropriates for the Shooting Range Development Program (SRDP), had its public hearing before the House Appropriations Committee today.  This is a thorny issue.  FWP solicited and received a letter from a US Fish and Wildlife Service employee in Denver ("Denver letter") saying essentially that if the Legislature put this money beyond FWP’s theft, that would be considered a "diversion" of in-state hunter license fee money that would make Montana ineligible to receive about $27 million of federal matching money.  The letter from USFWS said that in order for a state to be eligible for federal funding under the federal Pittman-Robertson Act and Dinagall-Johnson Act (PRDJ), any in-state hunter license monies must be under the "control" and "administration" of the state wildlife agency.

I pointed out that the SRDP is assigned by Montana law to the "control" and "administration" of FWP.  And, I provided a letter from the former administrator of the PRDJ for the USFWS in Washington, D.C., wherein he asserts that the "Denver letter" is just smoke, and is improperly intended to allow FWP to do whatever it wants with any money appropriated by the Legislature, regardless of the wishes of the Legislature.

The House Appropriations Committee is spooked by the threat (even if empty) that the USFWS could deny Montana $27 million in PRDJ federal funding.  In order to quiet these fears among Committee members, I’ve worked with amendments to come to some middle ground, to only allow FWP to divert the SRDP money if there is an "emergency" with FWP, and with the terms of the "emergency" defined.  I’m watching the Committee action now.  It is expected to consider the amendments and act on HB 234 today.  Again, I’ll let you know.

That’s enough for now.  More soon.  Stay tuned.

Best wishes,

Gary Marbut, President
Montana Shooting Sports Association
http://www.mtssa.org
Author, Gun Laws of Montana
http://www.MTPublish.com