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Montana Editorial Roundup

Billings Gazette, May 15, on vetoed school marshal bill:

Some may argue after the school shootings in Colorado recently, it’s not the right time to talk about guns in school.

But as school shootings seem to become more and more common, we can’t wait for the right time because we don’t believe there will be a time when talking about guns and schools won’t be fraught with controversy.

The Legislature had sent a bill to Gov. Steve Bullock’s desk that would have allowed marshals with minimal training to pack heat in schools.

This was the epitome of a problem in search of a solution.

More guns in school just ensure there are more guns in school. It doesn’t ensure safety.

More guns in school just provide more opportunities for guns to be fired, fall into the wrong hands or someone to be killed by mistake.

Some studies suggest that less than 20 per cent of trained law enforcement officials can hit a target when firing in a stressful active-shooter situation. How much less accurate would a “school marshal” be if they didn’t have nearly the training or experience?

We believe that schools across Montana should continue to consider improved safety measures because our state is by no means immune to the violence that other rural areas have seen at school. However, if Montana wants armed guards in its schools, we’d suggest we already have the system in place via school resource officers.

The barrier to that is cost and time: Training and paying for school resource officers is expensive. But, if school safety really is an issue, then isn’t it worth whatever cost to do it correctly?

It seems like some lawmakers want the guns in school, but they don’t want to pay the professional training that goes along with it. And if that’s the case, then Montana is cheaping out, and making our kids vulnerable.

It’s important to note that while the Republican-led Legislature got behind the bill, important law enforcement groups did not. If the people we train and trust with our lives everyday cannot support it, then we shouldn’t either. Let the people trained to have the guns, keep the guns. The solution is simple, if we want more trained police officers, let’s hire them.

This seems to be more political show than go, so to speak. Most people don’t want someone whose only qualification is a series of training sessions carrying around a gun near or by their most precious asset, their children.

Bullock was right for vetoing the bill. Let’s hope that as more and more violence happens, the urge to just add more guns to the mix doesn’t grow more and more loud. We have to realize that adding more guns, no matter what that circumstances, will only increase the chance of a firearm being used — and in a tight, closed space like a school, chocked full of school-aged children.

In many ways, this conversation mirrors the larger gun debate in America. We keep on trying to either legislate guns in or out of situations, all the while refusing to look at the common denominator — and it has nothing to do with bullets, calibre or model. Instead, the common link seems to be mental illness. Let’s face it: It’s easy to regulate guns, or arm people trying to be the next John Wayne of the elementary school. Instead, imagine what could be gained by identifying those struggling and getting help.

Unfortunately that solution, while by no means novel, is rarely explored because of the high cost. But in more humane, enlightened world, we would come to recognize the school isn’t the problem and neither are the guns. It’s a broken system that cannot or will not recognize the great need for mental help and then act to intervene.

Putting more guns in more schools with less training seems to be a recipe for another tragedy.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2LLkxcV

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Daily Inter Lake, May 12, on Columbia Falls deciding whether to approve a resort tax:

Columbia Falls has long branded itself as the “Gateway to Glacier National Park,” and with good reason.

A state study to determine the city’s eligibility as a resort community under state law has revealed that 1.2 million vehicles travel through Columbia Falls en route to Glacier Park from July through September. That amounts to 62% of all traffic travelling through the park’s west entrance. What’s more, over a quarter of all businesses in the city are either entirely or partially dependent on tourist demand.

The state Department of Commerce just completed its due diligence and has declared that Columbia Falls qualifies as a resort community. Its residents now have a big decision to make. Do they approve a resort tax to bring in revenue to offset the impact of tourism-related activity? Or do they go it alone, raising property taxes to help pay for more law enforcement and first-responder services that come with increased visitor traffic?

Whitefish went through this same discussion 24 years ago when that resort community decided to ask voters to support a 2% tax on lodging, restaurant and bars, and retail “luxury” goods. There were heated discussions before Whitefish voters passed the measure in November 1995 and it took effect in February 1996.

Many Whitefish business owners initially opposed the resort tax, claiming it would send folks down the road to Kalispell to shop, and Canadians wouldn’t bother to stop in Whitefish because of the tax. There were long, laborious discussions at City Council meetings about which retail items to tax. Is underwear a luxury? What about art supplies?

It’s hard to argue that Whitefish’s resort tax has been a detriment to the community or its businesses. Quite frankly, business is booming in Whitefish. Since the resort tax began Whitefish has, to date, collected more than $43 million on taxable sales valued at $1.9 billion. This revenue has rebuilt streets, improved parks and provided property-tax relief to its residents.

Whitefish voters overwhelmingly approved a 1% increase to the 2% tax in 2015 to help purchase a permanent conservation easement on 3,000 acres in the Haskill Basin to protect the city’s water supply. Whitefish began collecting a 3% tax on July 1, 2015.

Last fall the city of Columbia Falls estimated a 3% resort tax would conservatively bring in $450,000 annually to city coffers. That money could go a long way in helping the city offset the impact of visitor traffic. One potential plan would be to split the resort tax revenue equally four ways — for the fire department, police, streets and property-tax relief.

To be sure, there will be naysayers in Columbia Falls, just as there were in Whitefish, when it comes time to decide whether to impose such a tax.

For communities heavily impacted by tourism, it makes sense to want to spread some of the cost to those throngs of visitors travelling through our towns. Columbia Falls now has the opportunity to decide whether or not to embrace a resort tax. It’s an option many communities throughout Montana — Kalispell included — would love to have.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2W8zIAA

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Bozeman Daily Chronicle, May 10, on Montana developing fishing regulations for the Madison River:

It’s unfortunate that a committee formed to reach a consensus on how to limit use of the Madison River has disbanded without finding common ground. Now it will be up to state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to formulate regulations. And most of the interested parties are probably not going to like them.

Fishing pressure on the Madison has grown to where some 200,000 fishing days are spent there annually. That has prompted concerns among fisheries biologists who fear continued intense pressure could degrade the river’s angling qualities.

The state Fish and Wildlife Commission formed the committee last year after rejecting proposed new regulations from department officials that would cap the number of guided fishing trips on the river. The committee consisted of representatives from the fishing guides, unguided anglers, owners of land on the river, the tourist industry, FWP and the commission itself. The group was unable to reach consensus through eight often contentious meetings that began in January. At its last meeting earlier this month, there was insufficient support on the committee to continue the process.

One major sticking point some reported was the inability to agree that there is a problem. Some argued there is insufficient evidence there are too many anglers on the river. This is where the biologists come in. If the scientists who monitor the health of the fishery say the pressure is becoming too great, we should accept that. Even if we allow that the river might be able to support the pressure it is getting now, we have to acknowledge that the popularity of this world-famous trout river is likely to continue growing. Waiting until the problem becomes obvious to all observers should not be an option. Failing to act soon could cause damage to the fishery that will be hard to recover from.

The Madison River is a tremendous natural and economic resource to the region. And, as with all trout fisheries, it is a fragile one. FWP is strongly encouraged to develop reasonable regulations that will limit the number of fishing days spent on the river annually while still allowing ample recreation opportunities. And the commission is strongly encouraged to approve those regulations.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2W8AZrq

The Associated Press