Bill before Montana legislature would make breaking lease a felony

Montana Sen. Roger Webb (R-Billings)

In the last few weeks, the Montana legislature has heard a series of bills designed to strengthen the position of landlords. Roger Webb (R-Billings) introduced Senate Bill 239, which would charge with criminal theft tenants who vacate rental properties before their leases are up, as though they had stolen cash in the amount of the remaining months’ rent. Webb’s Senate Bill 255 would make state courts responsible for collecting judgments against tenants for unpaid rent—a duty which currently falls to the landlords themselves, as in other civil matters. Both of these bills introduce the possibility of going to prison for not paying rent.

Webb’s wife, Rep. Peggy Webb (R-Billings), has introduced her own bill to charge with criminal trespass tenants who do not vacate rental properties at the landlord’s request. Its wording is vague, but it seems to withdraw the longstanding right of renters to remain in their homes until eviction proceedings are resolved. Taken together, these bills give landlords authority comparable to that of state courts.

It may shock you to learn that the Webbs own rental property themselves. During an informal poll of the state house, approximately one quarter of their fellow representatives did, too. Nobody asked how many rent their homes, but one suspects the number is small. The kind of people who become state legislators are more likely to be landlords than tenants. And if you’ve ever talked to a landlord, you know they see tenants as a horde of conscienceless freeloaders bent on exploiting the landowning classes. All this is to say that the legislature has a warped perspective on the landlord/tenant relationship, and it makes sense that they would overestimate the degree to which it is unfair to people like, well, them.

But is this the kind of injustice government should right? The conflict between landlord and tenant is, for the most part, a conflict between people who own multiple homes and people who own none. By definition, society is working pretty well for landlords already. Must we add the force of law to the force of economics? You can read such pinko reasoning in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We won’t be back tomorrow with Friday links, because I’ll be driving all day. Likewise Monday, but Combat! blog will return Tuesday, clothed in righteous fire. Or my truck will explode. Only time will tell.

MT senate might deny hunting licenses to deadbeat dads

Two full-grown males who won’t see their kids this weekend

Did you know that 37% of Montana families who are supposed to get legally mandated child support actually don’t? Arrears exceeded $147 million in 2013, and the state only collected 12% of it. Imagine if one third of defendants were ignoring any other kind of court order. It would be a crisis. But like smoking weed outside of Flippers or running over a bicyclist with your car, not paying child support is one of those things you can get away with. But if Sen. Mike Lang (R-Malta) gets his way, Montana will soon begin denying hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses to deadbeat dads.

That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but apparently it makes a difference. During a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sarah Swanson-Partridge of Glasgow said her former husband went seven years without making his court-mandated child support payments. After a state agency threatened to withhold his trapping and fishing licenses, however, he paid off the overdue child support in one year. In addition to being too depressing to contemplate for more than a few seconds, this anecdote suggests Sen. Lang might be onto a low-cost solution for a sprawling enforcement problem.

But what if not letting deadbeat dads shoot elk actually hurt the families they don’t support? That was the objection raised by Sen. Jennifer Fielder (R-Thompson Falls.) Her statement merits quotation in full:

A number of people in this state that are in poverty, and lack of payment is not always because they don’t want to—sometimes it’s because they can’t. I’m really concerned if we strip away a person’s ability to provide sustenance through wild meat that is obtained by a great number of families through fishing, hunting and trapping in this state, I’m really concerned that we’re not helping families.

We were fools not to consider the many non-custodial parents who pay their back child support in the form of wild game. Either that or Sen. Fielder is contorting her brain to come up with a rationalization for her core principle, “all hunting all the time.” You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.

While you’re at it, check out local anti-Muslim bigot activist Linda Sauer’s letter to the editor objecting to last week’s column about sharia law. “This bill might not have been necessary if Missoula hadn’t decided to play the phony ‘we’re all so caring and loving here’ card,” she writes, “so a few people could pat themselves on the back for their good deeds and wait for the resettlement money to roll in.” Such contempt for caring and loving is a rare treat, but you can find it again a few letters down, when Ed Kugler complains that leftists “want your rights the way you want them, but those that don’t agree with you, well that’s where your ‘love everyone’ comes to an end.” I’m so sick of these lovemongers undermining the patriotic work of blocking refugees and praying in school. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Montana senate prohibits courts from applying sharia law

Montana state senator Keith Regier on the day the capitol slid into Idaho

Sharia law: It’s out there, alternately oppressing women and strengthening terrorists, probably. Even as we speak, communities around the world in one part of the world apply this code of religious governance derived from the sacred texts of Islam. Imams and muftis use sharia law to resolve among their parishioners, much as rabbis and pastors do with the Judeo-Christian tradition. And in the same way that Lutherans who study abroad in China immediately begin trying to replace that country’s legal system with what their minister said, Muslims who immigrate to the United States set about enforcing sharia law. Take it from Gina Satterfield of Helena:

We as a nation and state do not have to wait as a forced host to witness the growing population for this foreign law to implement its totalitarian system.

That Markov chain of Palin-style main ideas came when Satterfield testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of SB97, a bill from Keith Regier (R–Kalispell) that would prohibit Montana courts from applying foreign law. The Senate passed it Friday. Wags might point out that Montana courts already apply a fixed body of law, the US Constitution and the code of Montana. But Regier’s bill will strengthen our resolve against replacing our existing legal system with the informal religious guidelines of literally several Muslim immigrants.

Either that or it’s stunt legislation that rallies bigotry to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. I guess it would depend on whether any Montana court had ever tried to apply sharia law, or if anyone in Montana had ever called for sharia law to be enforced, or if Montana were, as of 2012, the least Muslim state in America. Update: Only the last of these three conditions is true, and Regier’s bill is definitely an unnecessary public performance of Islamophobia. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, which comes with my own ideas for other laws to protect us from foreign customs and futuristic toasters. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.

I’m in the Times and the Indy, talking that mess

A newsstand seen through Roddy Piper’s magic glasses in They Live

It’s a big Thursday for Combat! blog, because I am in the New York Times. Apparently everyone who works there drinks, since they deigned to publish my Letter of Recommendation: Pedialyte. Do you know Pedialyte? Our hypocritical modern society markets it as a formula for children, but really it’s for adults. Specifically, it’s for adults who drink and work out to the point of vomiting, even though they are old now and should probably know better. I am old now. But I know nothing! Head on over to the Times and see how I somehow manage to make a living anyway.

In other news, literally, I wrote about John Carpenter’s misunderstood 1988 horror-satire They Live for the Missoula Independent. I first saw They Live in 2006, when it was presented to me as a so-bad-it’s-good eighties misfire. It is that. But at the time, I completely missed the subtext about Reaganomics and the amoral materialism that inspired Carpenter to make the movie in the first place. Today, Reag-o-nomical horror feels relevant again. The country is in the midst of some sort of nightmarish eighties throwback, but the people who most need to hear They Live‘s message have determined the alien conspirators who live among us represent…Jews. Seriously—Carpenter had to go on Twitter to tell internet Nazis it was about yuppies and not the Rothschild conspiracy. That, right there, is a neat encapsulation of our political moment. Even if you don’t care about politics or weird-toned eighties camp, They Live is worth watching for this the greatest fight scene in film history:

Meanwhile, in yet more news or at least opinion, Rep. Barry Usher (R–Roundup) has begun to walk back a bill that would ban bicycles from most of Montana’s public roads. Usher claimed his proposal, which would make it illegal to ride a bicycle outside of a municipal area on any two-lane road without a paved shoulder, was in the interest of bike safety. It seemed more like a motorist convenience bill, designed to save drivers from the danger of having to slow down and wait to pass. Little did he realize that almost none of the highways in the state have paved shoulders. Because the bill also applies to pedestrians and people in wheelchairs, it would make it a crime for people in rural areas to leave their properties, unless they were in cars. For once, though, public outcry has carried the day, and Usher now plans to rewrite his bill if not scratch it entirely. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.

Victory is sweet. This is the last Combat! blog of the week, because I am going to Seattle tomorrow morning for a fencing tournament. Will I win? Absolutely not. There will be Olympians and shit, and I started fencing last year. But will I have the opportunity to frustrate vastly superior fencers with my weird style, throwing them into the tantrums characteristic of the preppie class? You bet your sweet, unguarded hand I will. I’ll see you Monday, probably with a bunch of weird bruises on my leg.

Eugene Graf IV, less humorous candidates vie for Zinke’s seat

Congressional candidate and caricature of a rich grandson Eugene Graf IV

Since Donald Trump announced his plan to appoint as Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Montana’s sole representative in the US House, no fewer than six Republicans have threatened to campaign for his seat. Six! One of them is Eugene Graf IV, the scion of a Bozeman real estate fortune pictured above. Graf: He doesn’t remember shoving you into anything. As much as I would like to see Montana politics return to old-school corporatocracy, Graf is a long shot. He has not previously run for elected office, and his work experience is limited to working for his family business and, as past president of the Montana Homebuilders Association, lobbying for his family business. Yet he is sure to meet one qualification for office: the $1,740 fee the Montana Republican Party is charging each candidate to run.

That fee—set by state law at 1% of the salary of the office sought—is designed to defray the cost of organizing statewide primaries. It seems a little odd to charge it for candidates in this special election, where a nominee will be chosen not by primaries but by members of the state Republican committee. The food at that meeting is going to be great, I guess. Assuming he ponies up, the most likely nominee seems to be Ed Buttrey, a moderate Republican credited with orchestrating the compromise that allowed Montana to accept federal Medicaid funds last session. Among conservatives, of course, that’s a debit. But they have yet to put up a candidate of their own who can plausibly threaten him. This makes Buttrey’s run a barometer in the ongoing conflict between moderates and the right wing in Montana’s GOP. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.

Why read about the recent past, though, when you can focus on the future? This week marks the Indy’s annual Bold Predictions issue, in which various people including me speculate on what 2017 will bring in Missoula, Montana, and the world. My first two bold predictions, made in 2013 and 2014, crushed it: Missoula really did set out to buy the water works in 2014, and conservatives in the legislature really did overplay their hand in 2015. Last year’s prediction—that Uber would put at least one of Missoula’s two taxi companies out of business—has yet to come true. But there’s still time! Keep watching this space or even some more reliable news outlet for updates on my prediction for 2017, which is that Republicans will become staunch defenders of Medicaid until they can blame someone else for taking it away. I also predict we’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.