By Ron VandenBoom
Sitting on several major committees in the Montana Legislature is exciting to freshman Republican Rep. Merlin Wolery, who sit on the House Judiciary Committee, Agriculture Committee and Education Committee.
"It's a lot of work, but it's exciting and I'm loving it," Wolery said.
Working in the Judiciary Committee has exposed Wolery to a lot of lawyers and legal terminology that he says puts him at a bit of a disadvantage. But he said he likes learning from some of the best teachers available.
An example is House Bill 331, a theft of identity bill recently sent by the committee to the House for debate.
Wolery said the bill addresses the problem of people stealing Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, or other personal data and than using that information to commit fraud, theft, or make purchases in the victim's name. It's what Wolery said the lawyers on the committee call a "designer crime."
The bill, he said, would tighten up the penalties and better define the meaning of "theft of identity."
"This will just make it easier for prosecutors," Wolery said.
A bill that would also impose higher fines and enhance penalties for people that operate methamphetamine labs has also made its way out of the committee for debate on the floor.
HB 261, introduced by Rep. Larry Jent, D- Bozeman, at the request of Attorney General Mike McGrath, allows for penalties for operating methamphetamine labs of as much as $100,000 and imprisonment for a term not to exceed 40 years or both if the lab involves the use of a firearm or booby trap. The bill also allows larger fines and prison terms if the lab exists within 500 feet of a residence, business, church, or school or created a substantial risk to human health, safety, or the environment. The bill also covers meth paraphernalia, the precursors or chemicals used to make methamphetamine and the disposal of toxic waste in water, air, or ground water.
Wolery said he voted for the bill.
A bill that would have abolished the death penalty in Montana was voted on in committee earlier this week and will not make it to the House floor.
HB 265 would have reduced the sentences of people on death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Wolery said he guesses that the vote in the House would have been very close if the bill had made it to the floor, but the 10-10 split by the committee has, for the moment put an end to the issue.
Wolery added that it may surprise a lot of people that know him to learn that he voted in favor of the bill.
The demise of HB 465 does not necessarily mean Montanans have heard the last of the death penalty issue. Wolery said, he has heard talk about it becoming a ballot measure which would place the issue at the doorstep of Montana voters.
As a Rudyard area farmer, the House Agriculture Committee holds special interest for Wolery.
A bill that would have placed a two-year moratorium on the production of genetically modified wheat was tabled by the committee this week with Wolery's blessing.
"The MSU-College of Agriculture was against it and all the ag groups were against it and lots of testimony was sent to us," Wolery said. "I felt it sent the wrong message to the ag industry."
Wolery said he was concerned that the industry would get the impression that Montana was unwilling to try anything new.
Wolery acknowledged that there is a lot of fear on the part of some people that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could develop into something really terrible.
"I think that it's mostly unjustified," Wolery said. "I hated to send a message to groups that Montana might be closed for business."
Wolery explained that the companies involved in producing GMOs also assured the committee the need for a two year moratorium was unnecessary because the industry would not have any seed for at least three years.
Wolery is also sponsoring HJ-13, a resolution that would give the legislature's blessing to what he describes as, "a harmonization of pesticides between the United States and Canada."
Pesticides used in Canada are often the same as those used in the United States except perhaps for the color or a label, yet the cost can be 15 percent to 25 percent cheaper in Canada, Wolery said.
Wolery said he hopes that the resolution could be sent to Washington where it might encourage action at the federal level to allow the importation and use of the Canadian chemicals in the United States.