Montana Governor Signs Legislation to Protect Mobile Amateur Radio Operations from Distracted Driving Regulations
On February 28, Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D) signed House Bill 148 into law. Montana State Representative Pat Connell, WA7PDC, had submitted the bill -- Clarifying Local Government Authority to Regulate Amateur Radio Operations -- on the 2013 Montana legislative docket in order to protect Amateur Radio operators in Montana from distracted driving laws. The new law prohibits local governments from regulating licensed Amateur Radio operations from a motor vehicle and also establishes a 100-foot by-right height below which local jurisdictions may not regulate Amateur Radio towers.
“Over the past few years, many of the larger Montana cities have enacted laws to prohibit the use of mobile telecommunication devices while a motor vehicle is in motion,” explained Rod Jackson, AE7JJ, Public Affairs Officer for the Great Falls [Montana] Area Amateur Radio Club. “These actions were taken to stem what was perceived as a safety concern from the distractions of trying to carry on a mobile phone call or send a text message while trying to drive the vehicle. Each time these new regulatory actions were under consideration, the drafters always tried to include mobile Amateur Radio operators in the same group as the typical cell phone user.”
Jackson told the ARRL that many radio amateurs from across the state came to the capital to testify in support of HB 148 in both the House and Senate committees: “The bill received wide support during the process, including an official endorsement from the Montana Association of Counties. Their representative cited the numerous benefits that Amateur Radio operators bring to their communities, in particular Amateur Radio’s critical role in providing emergency communications support during times of disaster.”
ARRL Montana Section Manager-elect George Forsyth, AA7GS, testified in front of both committees in support of the bill. “House Bill 148 is a great step forward in settling issues that have kept Montana Amateur Radio operators on the defensive for the last several years,” he said. “This bill provides reasonable protections for Amateur Radio operators who are considerate, caring and involved members of their communities.”
While HB 148 does not affect antenna installations in those areas designated as historic districts or those areas covered by agreed-upon covenants, Jackson explained that it does provide the vast majority of Montana hams “a good measure of protection from overzealous local government actions.”