HELENA — April 18 is National Lineman Appreciation Day, a day highlighting the difficult job of electrical lineworkers. This year, state leaders took that opportunity to hold an official signing for a new state law aimed at supporting those workers’ safety.
Gov. Greg Gianforte signed House Bill 320 into law Tuesday. NorthWestern Energy and local electric cooperatives brought in more than 20 utility workers and hoisted the U.S. and Montana flags from bucket trucks to mark the occasion.
“It's huge for us to know that there's people behind us and looking out for our safety, and we just really appreciate them getting it through and getting it signed by the governor,” said Clint Begger, an area foreman with Vigilante Electric Cooperative, working out of Townsend.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Neil Duram, R-Eureka, adds highway maintenance and utility service vehicles to the state’s “move-over law.” That law requires drivers to slow down and give space when they drive by a vehicle parked on the side of the road and showing flashing lights. It currently applies to emergency vehicles, law enforcement and tow trucks.
Begger has been a lineman for 20 years. He says they already have a dangerous job, and this will be an important safety step.
“We need the room; we need people to respect us, not buzzing by so fast,” he said. “It's a safety issue. When we're working up in the air in these buckets, we're 30 to 40 to 50 feet in the air, and when a big rig goes by us on the ground, it shakes the truck just a little bit at the ground, but it really moves you up in the bucket.”
This is just one of several bills up this legislative session intended to boost safety for those working on the roads. House Bill 470, sponsored by Rep. Ross Fitzgerald, R-Fairfield, would create more specific rules within the move-over law, including specific speeds that drivers must slow down to. Supporters of that bill say it will make it easier to consistently enforce the law. HB 470 has passed the Senate with amendments, and the House will have to decide whether to accept the changes or reject them.
House Bill 374, sponsored by Rep. Donavon Hawk, D-Butte, has passed both chambers and is on its way to the governor’s desk. It would create new penalties for failing to yield to emergency vehicles or law enforcement using lights or sirens.
Begger urges all drivers to use caution when they’re on the roads.
“If you see us out there, just give us our space and just realize – them power lines, they're dangerous, and if they're on the ground or hanging low, it doesn't necessarily mean that there's not voltage going through them,” he said. “So just be mindful of your surroundings.”