The Montana Legislature’s Interim Fire Suppression Committee has successfully forwarded 30 draft bills aimed at helping the state avoid a fatal, budget-busting wildfire that is predicted for the near future. The 61st session of the legislature convenes on January 5 at noon in Helena.
More than half of the bills submitted already have committee assignments. For example, HB 44, which asks the legislature to revise the state’s participation in “federal forest management planning,” has been referred to the Natural Resources Committee of the Montana House of Representatives.
The draft bills cover a myriad of subjects from emergency proclamation durations to volunteer firefighter insurance and tax credits to homeowner responsibility for wildfire hazards mitigation.
Several of the bills concern the state’s desire to have more input on how wildland fire starts are managed on nearby federal lands. Others refer to the wildland/urban interface (WUI). Bills here include requests for building standards, insurance industry review, and community decay ordinances—as well as a state definition of the WUI.
The state’s wood products industry—key to any hazardous fuel-reduction project—is also the focus of draft legislation.
According to Leanne Heisel, legislative research analyst and author of the Committee’s final report, the sudden and severe downturn in the nation’s economy, coupled with the state’s rapidly diminishing budget surplus, will make any bills requesting funds less viable. This includes the Fire Committee’s request that its work be extended into 2009/2010 using a $50,000 appropriation. The Committee was created in 2007 by special legislative session after a fire season that cost taxpayers more than $40 million in fire suppression costs.
“It take a lot of things to happen for something to become law,” Heisel says. “So we’ll just have to wait and see. The way things are set up this session the House is tied 50/50. There is a general feeling that a lot of things aren’t going to get out of committee.”
She adds, “When the committee requested a lot of this legislation, we were looking at a $250 million surplus.”
For a complete listing of the draft bills, visit the Montana Legislature website. Once there, click on the “By Request Of” link and scroll to find the Fire Suppression Committee. Choose that category, and click on the “Submit” button. This will provide a list of introduced and un-introduced bills.
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