Monday, March 23, 2015

MT: Utility Company Lobbies against Gun Reform Referendum

 John S. Fitzpatrick, NorthWestern Energy

NorthWestern Energy is a publicly regulated utility that supplies electricity, natural gas, and has coal and telecommunications operations across a broad swath of Northern states.  The company lobbyist, John S. Fitzpatrick, recently testified against a proposed bill to allow a gun reform referendum to be voted on in Montana.  Referendum that enhance the protections of the right to keep and bear arms have proven popular in a number of states.  The referendum would allow people to sue government entities that infringe on their rights to keep and bear arms under the Montana Constitution.  One might ask, what does this have to do with a utility company?

Fitzpatrick claimed that the referendum would allow people to sue NorthWestern Energy, which has a "no guns" policy on company property.  When I read the proposed referendum, HB 598,  I could see that if you squinted just right, and stretched just so, you might be able to interpret it in that way.

The proponent of the bill and its sponsor both said that was not the intent, and that they would insert language to clarify any ambiguity.  You can look at the bill and see that they did exactly that.  From
(2) A person whose right to bear arms has been burdened, or is likely to be burdened, in violation of subsection (1) may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense ONLY AGAINST THE STATE in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the state or one of its political subdivisions is a party to the proceeding. The person asserting the claim or defense may obtain appropriate relief, including but not limited to injunctive relief, declaratory relief, and compensatory damages.

But there seems to be more going on here.  From the
“You can talk all you want about the state establishing a compelling right to take away gun rights, and that’s going to fail miserably, in the context of someone saying, `All this bill does is allow kids to bring guns to school,’ ” Fitzpatrick said. “And once that process gets in place, it’s going to be a death spiral for this referendum.”

Both Monforton and Marbut said this week that NorthWestern is misleading legislators about HB598, because it applies only to state actions against gun rights, and not private companies.

Fitzpatrick said NorthWestern and its attorneys disagree, and noted the bill also is opposed by the state Chamber of Commerce, the Montana Petroleum Association, banks and credit unions, which fear it could be used to challenge company policies against firearms.
Fitzpatrick seems to be engaged in some serious hyperbole when he says that "All this bill does is allow kids to bring guns to school," .  The bill just authorizes a referendum, after all, which then allows people to bring lawsuits.   It is quite a stretch to claim that it is "allowing kids to bring guns to schools".  Presumably minors would need parental permission to do that.

Children do not get full access to constitutional rights until they reach majority.   That has been the state of affairs for all of the Nation's history.  It is only recently that the federal government enacted a ban on guns in schoolsIt was after the federal ban that mass shootings in schools increased dramatically.

Utilities can use their profits for whatever they wish; even for lobbying on contentious political issues that may not represent the thinking of their shareholders.   Most companies try to steer clear of controversy, and save their lobbying efforts for areas that directly concern them.  Fitzpatrick does try to gain support by claiming that the referendum would galvanize anti-Republican voters in a critical Presidential election year:
Yet Fitzpatrick didn’t stop there: He also told the Republican-controlled committee that putting HB598 on the 2016 ballot as a referendum would be “a disaster for Republicans.”

Republicans would be identified as supporters of bringing guns into schools, banks, public buildings, bars and job sites, and suffer at the polls during a presidential election year, when Democratic turnout is higher, he said
It is a strange case to make.  I have never seen it happen.  My experience in watching these type of referendums is that they bring out gun owners in favor of them, and pass overwhelmingly.

Utility companies are not the most popular entities in the best of times.  People are suspect of state granted monopolies and their guaranteed profits.   It is hard to see how this sort of lobbying will help NorthWestern get desired rate hikes or regulatory relief.  On the other hand, perhaps the powerful elites who want more restrictions on an armed population are the same ones who regulate the utilities.

I favor a simpler explanation: Fitzpatrick and the NorthWestern management do not want the people to be able to exercise their right to keep and bear arms.  It is consistent with their "no guns on company property" policy.

 ©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Link to Gun Watch

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