By PHIL DRAKE
HELENA – The state House of Representatives on Saturday approved a resolution that would prohibit the designation of national monuments in Montana without state’s approval.
“I don’t necessarily oppose monuments but I do oppose them without the consent of the legislature and governor,” said Rep. Ken Peterson, R-Billings, who introduced House Joint Resolution No. 4. He said there has been some abuse in Washington as the Antiquities Act law allows the president to make such a declaration.
The House passed the second reading of the resolution 76-23. It is listed as a joint resolution of the state Senate and House. The third reading will be Monday.
In September, Bureau of Land Management officials told nearly 1,500 people at a meeting in Malta that there is no plan to turn 2.5 million acres of the Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area into a national monument in Montana. Although there reportedly is a BLM document that makes that suggestion.
In the final days of his administration, President Bill Clinton created the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument by using the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allowed him to designate national monuments without approval from Congress.
Peterson said that when he thinks of monuments he thinks of markers or slabs on the side of the road designating a place of historical significance, not “2.5 million acres of ground in Eastern Montana and South Dakota.”
“Tell me if 2.5 million acres is a small amount,” he asked his fellow lawmakers.
Rep. Bill Harris, R-Mosby, supported the bill.
“All the bill asks is that Montana is asked and given respect,” he said. “A vote for it will be a proud vote in Montana today.”
Rep. Mike Menahan, D-Helena, opposed and said Peterson’s proposal was a resolution and not a bill.
“It does not carry the force of law,” he said.
Rep. Wendy Warburton, said she attended the meeting in Malta with federal officials.
“The people in our area do not want this,” she said. “We’re a small population in eastern Montana and we need you to stand with us and tell the president ‘Please do not force this upon us like you did with the Missouri breaks.”
Peterson said the federal government does hold public hearings, but follows its own agenda anyway.
“We just want to rein them in a little bit,” he said. “They can hold all the public input meetings they want, but if their attitude is ‘I don’t care what you people think,’ what’s the purpose? That’s all this is, we want to have some input.”
The joint resolution urges Congress to amend the Antiquities Act to require that land used as part of a national monument to be small, and that Congress approve any designations.
The resolution calls for copies of it to be sent to the president, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, the majority leader in the U.S. Senate, the members of Montana’s congressional delegation and the governor.
According to the state’s Legislative website: a House resolution is used to adopt or amend House rules, expresses the sentiment of the House, or assist House operations. The Chief Clerk sends a copy of each passed House resolution to the Senate and the Secretary of State.