By Senator Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls
Most of the bills I am working on this session are aimed at ensuring government respects your constitutional rights and its constitutional limits, defends our traditional way of life, or opens up opportunities for self-reliance and good jobs here in Montana now and in the future. With three weeks down and thirteen to go, we are off to a good start in Helena for the 64th legislative session. Weve seen some positive signs of bi-partisan cooperation on a number of bills.
PRIVACY: My first bill this session passed the Senate 47-0. The bill, called SB 50, will update privacy laws to bolster your right to privacy in your home and in other places where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. If it passes the House, and the Governor does not veto it, the bill will make it unlawful for a person to surreptitiously observe or record images of you in your home or places like public restrooms or dressing rooms. I carried the bill at the request of the Attorney General to address the growing number of cases in which cell phone cameras are being used to take pictures or videos of peoples intimate body parts in a stealth or fraudulent manner.
I am also working on a larger privacy bill called the Fourth Amendment Protection Act. This bill seeks to reinforce the peoples constitutional right to be”secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures as set out in the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Since the Bill of Rights was ratified long before the advent of electronic communications, my bill will clarify that in Montana your”papers and effects includes your private documents, data, correspondences, or conversations generated through traditional or modern means including personal computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices. The bill will also prohibit government employees, or corporations providing services on behalf of the state, from participating in or aiding the federal government or anyone else in monitoring, searching, or seizing your personal papers and effects without your consent or a search warrant that specifically describes the person, place, or thing to be seized, such as is required by the Fourth Amendment.
ENERGY FREEDOM: Last week I reached across the aisle in favor of advancements in net metering laws to expand opportunities for individuals and small businesses to own and operate their own renewable energy systems on their property. In addition to keeping your monthly electric bill under control, self-reliant energy systems enable the owner to keep essential appliances running even when power outages strike large utility companies.
According to Renewable Energy Northwest, here is how net metering works: A rooftop solar array, small scale wind turbine or micro hydro generator connected to the grid with a”net metering arrangement first provides energy for the owners use. When the solar array or generator produces more energy than the owner is using, the excess flows onto the power grid (spinning the owners electric meter backward). Small energy system owners receive credit toward their power bill for each kilowatt-hour of energy they provide to the large utility company.
Getting credit for the excess energy you produce helps offset your costs for installing your own energy production system. If it passes, SB 134, the aggregate net metering bill I introduced will allow farms, ranches, or anyone with multiple electric meters on their property to apply the excess energy they produce toward their utility bills for all electric meters in their name on the same property. This will be a big help for homes or businesses with more than one meter, as well as ranchers and farmers with remote wells on separate electric meters.
BETTER PUBLIC LAND MANAGEMENT: Many colleagues and I continue efforts to protect and enhance public access, reduce wildfire dangers, and restore reasonable levels of economic productivity on public lands in the west. Despite fierce rhetoric from those who say we cant or shouldnt make changes, several very positive developments on the land management front are in the works. A growing number of counties, conservation districts, resource specialists, elected officials, citizens and public agencies throughout the nation are joining in the effort to restore a sensible
balance of access, health, and productivity on our public lands. Stay tuned for details in my next column! And if you can make the trip, you may want to save the date for a mid-day public land rally at the State Capitol on February 16th.
So much happens on a day to day basis its impossible to report it all in a bi-weekly column. The best way to keep up with first hand news as it happens is to sign into my website at www.jenniferfielder.us and follow me via facebook or other social media (I post almost daily). And you are welcome to follow all official legislative proceedings or leave me a message at www.leg.mt.gov.
Thanks, and God Bless!
Senator Jennifer Fielder
Montana State Senate – District 7