Commentary: Rules Run Amok
By Kellyn Brown, 12-21-07
In an era of political lethargy, Verdell
Jackson still gets ruffled. The state senator from Kalispell is, by label, a Republican. But many of his recent positions
could also be called populous, libertarian, or simply beset with common sense.
He’s a lawmaker that opposes laws
and sometimes that’s exactly what Montana needs. The most recent example is the very public fight in
Whitefish over who should be allowed to display a barbershop pole. Apparently, only certified barbers can have one, not a
Whitefish cosmetologist, even if she has trimmed flattops for 16 years.
Barber poles – those hypnotic cylinders
that resemble psychedelic candy canes – are reserved for barbers who are properly licensed. That was the 2004 decision
of the Montana Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists. Who knew such an obscure board wielded so much power? Jackson, in an interview last week, said that’s the point:
is just one little example of what’s happening in terms of the hundreds of boards we’ve got,” Jackson, who
may propose a bill to overturn the ruling, said. “They do these little regulations all the time below the radar screen.”
that’s where they stay, with little accountability, until they come to some absurd consensus and the consequences of
their decisions become public. Some appear minor, like rules regarding barber poles. Others are more serious, such as when
agents with the state Department of Justice Gambling Control Division raided Ron Turner’s antique shop last winter.
Whitefish man’s offense was displaying old gambling equipment at his store. The agents confiscated $77,000 worth of
antiques and then threatened to destroy them. The Gambling Control Division, after all, takes no prisoners.
Jackson quickly proposed a law on the last day bills could be introduced
during the 2007 Legislature that resulted in Turner getting his goods back. During discussion about the senator’s legislation
that allows a person to own and display gambling devices more than 25 years old, the administrator for the gambling division
asked, “Do you want these devices regulated or not?” A simple answer: “No, not by you.”
anyone in this state were concerned about gambling then it wouldn’t require that gambling and liquor licenses be packaged
together. Under these rules, it’s safe to assume that the Montana rule makers don’t
want a man in his 60s to own an aging roulette machine, but encourage Montana
residents to get punch drunk before they roll the dice, making it likely the inebriated gambler will lose more coin.
may not be the state’s intention, but that’s how it looks. For one Whitefish Italian restaurant to earn the privilege
of serving wine with pasta the owners had to enter a lottery.
“We control it in fine dining establishments, but
sell it in a grocery store,” Jackson said. “That
doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Few can make sense of it, Democrat or Republican. Sen. Dan Weinberg, D-Whitefish,
sponsored the bill that created the 124 additional cabaret licenses because he saw that restaurants in the state’s largest
cities were being hurt by the restrictions.
It’s a mystery how these restrictions were implemented in the first
place, in a place like Montana, where if New Hampshire
hadn’t trademarked the motto, “Live Free or Die,” we may have made it our own.
Serving alcohol should
require a license, so should allowing gambling, and those who cut hair for a living should be able to prove they were trained
to do so. But liberals and conservatives can certainly agree that well-intentioned laws in Montana are being abused by those who oversee them.
Thus this state looks less concerned
about protecting our safety than regulating the masses for the benefit of a few.
“If we’re going to restrict
someone’s freedom we better have a darn good reason for doing it,” Jackson
Instead, we’re arguing over candy-colored poles.