Thursday, May 13, 2021

Gunderson tackles CWD, e-bikes and oversight committees among other issues at state Legislature

The Western News | February 23, 2021 7:00 AM

State Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Libby) likened his experience at this year’s legislative session to juggling running chainsaws.

“I’ve got so many irons in the fire,” said the third-term representative during a Feb. 17 interview.

Since the state legislature convened on Jan. 4, Gunderson has worked on bills ranging from replacement hunting licenses to e-bike regulations. While Gunderson says he considers himself working for the state of Montana as a whole, some of his proposed legislation was prompted directly by Lincoln County issues.

One of his bills, which would revise laws related to the oversight of superfund sites, stems from his involvement with the Libby Asbestos Superfund Oversight Committee. After brainstorming with members of the group, Gunderson drafted the bill to create a framework for future oversight committees.

If lawmakers approve the bill, Gunderson said the new law would help level the decision-making playing field between groups like LASOC and the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Among the changes in the latest draft of the bill, the section of Montana State Code Annotated which outlines the responsibilities of LASOC would be altered to read the committee “shall direct” DEQ regarding the administration of certain Libby cleanup and maintenance funds. The standing law says the committee’s duty is to provide “recommendations to” DEQ.

The bill would ultimately ensure that Lincoln County residents aren’t saddled with expensive asbestos cleanup costs, according to Gunderson.

“Citizens should not have to pay,” he said. “That’s been our position from day one.”

To help hunters that harvest game infected with chronic wasting disease, Gunderson is working to pass a bill that would change the way replacement licenses, permits and tags are issued for hunters who harvest animals deemed unfit for human consumption.

Speaking at a Feb. 16 meeting of the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee, Gunderson said two Lincoln County residents harvested moose last interim infected with CWD. While FWP officials reissued moose permits for that season, neither hunter was able to harvest another moose.

Gunderson pointed out that moose hunts are often expensive and physically taxing endeavors. Mounting multiple hunts per year is not possible for many hunters. Were lawmakers to pass Gunderson’s bill, FWP could reissue tags and permits for the upcoming season.

Troy Mayor Dallas Carr voiced his support for the bill and said he was one of the hunters who harvested a moose infected with CWD last interim.

“To take seven boxes of meat to Libby landfill and throw it away with several people watching, it was one of the most disheartening events I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen to anyone in the future.”

Marcus Strange, programs and partnership director at the Montana Wildlife Federation, said the organization supported the bill.

“In times like these when hunters still participate in hunting despite CWD this seems like a good thing to do for those who lose their take to CWD or other diseases,” Strange said.

Carmen Borchelt, conservation and legislative assistant with Montana Audubon, also voiced support for the bill, saying hunters have played an important role in tracking and limiting the spread of the disease throughout the state. Were a hunter to harvest an animal with CWD, it would only be fair for officials to reissue them a permit.

Gunderson said the bill would also cover animals infected with other contagious diseases, parasites and systemic infections.

Gunderson has also worked on a bill that would revise e-bike laws. The purpose of this bill is to codify different types of e-bikes ranging from a class one e-bike, which provides pedal-assistance only up to 20 mph, to a class three e-bike, which provides pedal-assistance up to 28 mph. The bill also would allow certain classes of e-bikes on trails currently reserved for traditional bikes.

Other bills Gunderson has introduced or that are in committee include the creation of a disaster resiliency fund, the prohibition of sales of federal land transferred in Montana, the establishment of the public lands access act, a revision to property tax exemptions for affordable housing, a revision to zoning law, a measure to protect critical infrastructure, a revision to license plate laws, a clarification on the justification of board of oil and gas conservation and acts to increase the qualified electors required to sign statutory initiative petitions and constitutional initiatives.