Schooled by a Schoolgirl

Cross-posted from State Senator Dick Barrett’s blog: Barrett for SD 45

By Dick Barrett and Isabelle Earl

Last week, when I presented a bill to the Judiciary Committee providing for primary enforcement of the state’s seat belt law, Isabelle Earl, who’s 15, showed up to testify.

It’s important to know something about the hearing room, the august former Supreme Court chambers in the Capitol. The committee sits on elevated benches. The floor is carpeted. There are murals on the ceiling and ornate brass lamps on the wall. In short, a solemn setting which is bound to faze a bit just about anybody who shows up to testify.

But Isabelle did just fine. She spoke in a clear eyed, articulate and moving way about her cousin, Lauryn Goldhawn, who died earlier this year when the car she was riding in, unrestrained, crashed outside of Fairfield. She pleaded with the committee to pass the bill in the hope that other kids like Lauryn wouldn’t lose their lives. She did a great job.

But when it came time for questions from the committee, Sen. Nels Swandal, a former district court judge, had a question for Isabelle. To start with, he didn’t remember her name, so he asked for the “young lady in pink” to come to the microphone. And then he asked her, tendentiously, why she thought government should require citizens to do something that’s in their own best interests. He didn’t insist or expect her to answer the question, in essence instructing her to run along and think about it some more. It was a gratuitous performance and a violation of the unwritten rules of decorum legislators are supposed to follow in dealing with the public.

But Isabelle took it in stride. She did go back and think about Sen. Swandal’s question and she came up with an answer. Here it is:

Dear Senator Swandal,

On Thursday, January 12th, I made the decision to testify in front of you and your committee members on behalf of Senate Bill 9. I was extremely nervous to speak in front of people with such power and knowledge, but I did it because I thought that if my voice was heard, it might make a difference and people’s lives may be saved. I understand you Tabled this bill, but what I have to say in response to your question is still important.

After the proponents and opponents spoke, you called me back up to the podium. You asked me, “Why do we need to pass a law to make you do something that is our own best interest.”

I see that you have just started your second term as a Senator, so I am sure you remember your Oath of Office. You swore to support and uphold the Constitution of the United States as well as the State of Montana. In Article 2 Section 3 of Montana’s Constitution, it states: “All persons are born free and have certain inalienable rights. They include the right to a clean and healthful environment and the rights of pursuing life’s basic necessities, enjoying and defending their lives and liberties, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and seeking their safety, health and happiness in all lawful ways. In enjoying these rights, all persons recognize corresponding responsibilities.”

The phrase “corresponding responsibilities” means that people’s decisions affect people other than just themselves. We need laws to prevent chaos. If everybody acted on their own wants and wishes, their actions would undoubtedly infringe upon others’ rights. For example, everyone understands littering is not in our best interest, yet we created laws against this act because it infringes upon other’s rights to a clean and healthful environment. There are many other laws that reinforce our best interest, because even though social responsibility may seem intuitively obvious to some, laws are necessary to clarify it for others. (i.e. shoplifting, trespassing, rape, murder, etc.)

It ultimately is up to our Legislature to pass laws to protect the people of Montana. Wearing a seatbelt is important to protecting the safety of Montanans as was clearly defined by the overwhelming statistics shared by several of the many proponents who spoke in favor of SB9. If you are in an accident, and not wearing your seatbelt, you can endanger the safety of the passengers in your car, anyone in a vehicle around you, the responding emergency crews and healthcare workers. The decision to buckle up is not a decision to be taken lightly.

The point of this law is not to strip someone of their rights, as was claimed by the mere three opponents to this bill. First of all, wearing your seat belt is already the law. In its current capacity, however, we have restricted police officer’s ability to enforce it effectively. People have “lost the right” to NOT wear their seatbelt a long time ago. I believe the opponents forgot this during their testimony, especially when Mr. French admitted to only wearing his seatbelt a portion of his three-hour drive to Helena that day.

The fact that this law did not pass completely shocked me. You heard overwhelming testimony from a multitude of experts in their respective fields and on this subject, with minimal meaningful opposition, yet, your committee overwhelmingly made the decision to Table.  Not only does a primary seatbelt law save lives, it saves our state and its taxpayers’ money. (Utah’s statistics prove this to be true, as stated in one of SB9’s proponent’s testimony.) Also, as the representative from the trucking industry stated, we are infringing upon their ability to do business in Montana, because of their increased insurance costs. Therefore, they are incentivized to avoid doing business in our state.

Senator Swandal, just the fact that lives could be saved without financial costs should be convincing enough to pass this law. I’ve lost someone close to me, and I know you understand how hard that can be. This law can help prevent families from these types of tragedies. SB9 (Lauryn’s Law) is what this state needs. Please reconsider and take this bill off the table.

Isabelle Earl
The young lady in the pink.


12 Comments on "Schooled by a Schoolgirl"

  1. Dear Mr. Barret, next time I need a nanny I’ll be sure to call you. But in the meantime, please stop losing us Dems elections with your vigorous pursuit of non-issues that no one wants. I’ll save my own life if I choose to. But I do not want to give the police another reason to stop motorists. You may want a total police state, but the majority of Montanans don’t. And your agenda simply insures that the Republicans will be in the majority forever.

    Thank you.

    • I’ve always found that the wingers complaining about the nanny state are the first lining up for THEIR nanny state – they just don’t support any one else’s. These are the famous signs from the tea bag brigades with seniors obvious oldster on medicare holding signs that said ‘Government out of health care!’ Their the ones that rail against law suits, until a family member of theirs is hurt and then wonder why the courts aren’t fair. Their the first to cry about takers and people getting free health care until their hurt and their on the verge of bankruptcy because they dared to get cancer.

      And like this – they’ll moan about nanny state nonsense, and then rail about traffic deaths, or unsafe roads. Or they’ll tell us that it’s their choice until a poor cop has to tell a young child that her parents are dead because some dummy thinks it’s his choice to decide whether he wears one or not.

      “I’ll save my own life if I choose to…” Smart…and then if he doesn’t but he’s just maimed or paralyzed he’ll expect to be taken care of by the tax payers for his hubris.

      • You know, I’d be totally cool if the idjits who chose NOT to wear seat-belts registered with the local EMT’s so they could ignore the “save yerself” crowd when they inevitably drink, drive and crash. And seriously, who is against lower insurance rates? If it lowered everyone’s cost of insurance, that’s a Good Thing, right?

      • Instead of traffic deaths and injuries, what if there was a “real” bill about tobacco?

        Deaths in Montana from Smoking

        Adults who die each year from their own smoking 1,600

        Kids now under 18 and alive in Montana who will ultimately die prematurely from smoking 19,000

        Smoking-Caused Monetary Costs in Montana

        Annual health care costs in Montana directly caused by smoking $440 million

        Medicaid costs caused by smoking in Montana $81.1 million

        Residents’ state & federal tax burden from smoking-caused government expenditures $791 per household

        Smoking-caused productivity losses in Montana $368.9 million

  2. Thanks MC and Cowboy for publishing another gem we would have missed.

  3. Craig,
    I have a constitutional amendment cued up so we can discuss the access age of tobacco products beyond age 18. Yes it is certainly a product that takes a lot of people down prematurely and “taxes” us all. Isabelle gives me hope forthe future!

  4. Isabelle Earl, Young Lady in Pink, you are a gem, and one with amazing polish. Terrific letter, with logic backed by data, and so well written. My 14 year old granddaughter is getting quite interested in public policy so my next move is to bring this to her attention. Thank you, Ms. Earl, for your testimony and your letter. Hang in there; you will be persuasive.

  5. Isabelle Earl,
    Brava!! You wrote an excellent, respectful, and cogent response to someone who clearly underestimated you just because of your age and gender. I hope he and the other members of that committee will reconsider their irresponsible action in tabling that bill. Maybe the constituents of Mr. Swandal and the other committee members who voted to table don’t care if their taxes have to be raised to take care of all those injured, maimed, or killed because they weren’t wearing their seat belts, but I do. And I also resent the willingness of such legislators to squander our greatest treasure — you, your cousin Lauryn, and others like you who may not yet understand or appreciate how vulnerable we are & how fragile are the ties that bind us to life as we know it. I’m not sure who he was grandstanding for, but shame on him and the others for failing to do this least thing, and for treating you with bullying disrespect.

  6. Yes, because emotional appeals from children is the best way to legislate, right Mr. Barret? Come on. Is this what the democratic party has come to? This is the exact same way that the christofascists attempt to spread their “religion”. Children testifying to the glories of their “God”. Well, I would have hoped for better from the Dems. What OTHER issues do you think that children should be testifying on? Budget issues? Regulations? Health care? State lands? In other words, what other issues do they have the expertise to address cogently?

    Regardless of what you think of Mr. Swandal, he was a district court judge, and therefore, he has the gravitas to be where he is. A fifteen year old girl does NOT testify with the same standing that he does, regardless of how many heart strings she pulls. So, that dog won’t hunt.

    And the issue is complicated beyond the understanding of fifteen year old. Sorry, but that’s the truth. Fine to have her emotional testimony, but that’s all it is. If our legislators voted as every emotional fifteen year old wanted, how would that improve the legislative process?

    Look, if you want to talk about societal costs, keep in mind that this entire bill is simply designed to get even MORE folks into the criminal justice system. Produce even MORE revenue for the police, etc. It is terribly regressive, and will disproportionately affect those who can least afford it, the poor. Think I’m kidding? Well, who’s going to provide for all those poor folks who lose their jobs when they are stopped and lose their licenses and have to appear in court for no insurance, etc. Has a fifteen year old experienced enough of life to understand that there is a war on the poor in this country? I seriously doubt it.

    Time to stop this nonsense. The police do NOT need another primary reason to stop people. And the Dems in Mt. like Mr. Barret need to stop beating those dead horses, for it makes the entire party look like the north end of those horses going north! I used to call myself a Dem, but I’m beginning to regret it. I’m now a total independent.

    Stick to non-issues that really destroy the party, like the Missoula gun control laws. It’s what the Missoula crowd does best anyway. The sooner we look like California, the sooner the Republicans will own the entire legislature.

    Just a thought from the not Missoula crowd. I mean, you guys have done so well already. You ARE in the majority down there, right??

    • You are a tribute to our great educational system, devising a straw-man argument to denigrate an obviously bright young woman and thousands of Montanans who are proud to be Democrats. Party leaders may falter but the objectives of the Democratic Party never will-stand up for working families, women, children and the powerless, our mission remains the same. This law is provably effective in saving lives and money-get over it! If cops want to pull you over they don’t need and excuse.

      • Well, Bob, my roots in the Dem party run from about 1880 through three generations in the coal mines to the present. How about yours? Sorry, but we were not always the Latte fern bar Mizooola crowd.

        But I’m sorry. I forgot myself. You new warm fuzzy Dims have been just SO successful now, haven’t you?

        Her daddy is apparently a physician who treats injuries. Well, where DOES she get her opinions?

        I’ll take my blue collar working man opinions any day. Enjoy our Latte.

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