by Kevin Starrett
Dear President Courtney,
Having now sat through my second “informational meeting” in the Senate Judiciary Committee, I felt obligated to contact you about the “procedure.”
As you no doubt know, the Judiciary Committee scheduled three bills to be heard last Thursday. However, the hearing was also to be used as the setting for an “informational meeting” on three “concepts”:
Guns in schools, restoration of a felon’s gun rights, and “mental health issues.”
The hearing on the bills and the “informational meeting” ran concurrently, so those who wanted to testify on the bills themselves were sandwiched into the “informational meeting.”
Of course, the first speakers were all representatives of groups that wanted to lobby on behalf of banning concealed handgun license holders from school grounds. Interestingly, all of these people had testimony that referred to a specific amendment to a specific bill.
No one who came to support gun rights saw any amendment nor did either of the two Republican members of the Committee.
Chairman Prozanski insisted there were no amendments, yet even after making that statement, references were made to “the dash-1” amendments.
The first speakers were given an unlimited amount of time to speak. By the time anyone who supported gun rights was given an opportunity to testify, their time limit was down to 2 minutes.
No representative of any organized pro-gun group was given a chance to present testimony in spite of having signed up before many of the anti-gun, school representatives.
When time ran out, we were informed that the “meeting” would continue today, Tuesday. When we arrived, sign up sheets for all three bills and the “informational meeting” were available on the table in the hearing room. Several people signed up.
From the beginning of this “hearing” we were informed that testimony would be limited to 2 minutes. So now, we were limited to two minutes to testify on three bills, all of which we requested and worked on, and all of which received overwhelming support in the House. But we also had to testify on three “concepts”, none of which we were allowed to see in spite of a direct request to Senator Prozanski to share them with us.
Having listened to extensive and inaccurate testimony from the government school representatives last week we now had two minutes to refute their comments, discuss two other “concepts” (still unseen) and three important gun bills. In all we were afforded 20 seconds for each issue.
Clearly, the bills in question never received an adequate hearing. They were barely discussed at all.
“Mental health” received almost no comment, felons’ rights restoration received no comment at all, and the hearings were instead used as an opportunity to bash license holders by people who clearly seemed to be familiar with amendments Senator Prozanski claims do not exist.
Today, as you well know, a number of people who had signed up to testify were simply ignored, although one person who signed up today was inexplicably given her two minutes.
After the hearing, Senator Prozanski contacted several inviting them to come in to testify tomorrow, claiming he had “overlooked” the new “sign up” sheet even though one person who did get to testify was only on the new sign up sheet, not having been there last week.
As you also know, this invitation came only after those people came together to your office to complain about the shoddy treatment they had received after taking time off from work to participate in the process.
If it is the desire of your caucus to kill these bills, that is their prerogative. They can take no action on them, amend them or simply vote them down. But this process, wherein bills of importance to enough people to have received overwhelming support from the House are used as a theatrical event to promote the erosion of the rights of the most law-abiding people in the state is an outrageous misuse of the system.
At a time when the idea of “government transparency” is gaining public attention, it’s absurd to invite people to testify and then refuse to allow them to know what they are testifying about.
Frankly, we’ve seen this before on the same issue. Several years ago Senator Burdick held hearings on a school gun ban in a courthouse, where, of course, CHL holders are forbidden with their self-defense tools. The hearing date was given to the opponents of gun rights before the Republican members of the Senate were told when it was, and seating was “reserved” for anti-gun speakers.
If members of your body want to disarm CHL holders in spite of their own admittance that there have been exactly zero problems, they can introduce a bill and make an effort to pass it. But to misuse the process, prevent proper testimony about important bills from getting on the record and refuse to allow the public to know what members’ intentions are is a sorry excuse for governing.