Notes from the Field / What the Helena 2021

What the Helena – Week 2

January 29, 2021
*January 17th, 2021*

Holy smokes, welcome back folks!

An attempted coup on our nation’s democracy as COVID-19 deaths continue to surge – 2021 is shaking out to be quite the year. How is it only January?!

As Inauguration Day for President-elect Joe Biden approaches on January 20th, there have been threats of armed marches at all 50 State Capitols. In Helena, security is heightened and law enforcement is ready to respond if needed. We’ll be thinking about the safety of all representatives and staff this week.

And against this pleasant backdrop, we launched into week two of the session. Here’s what’s been going down.

Business leaders rally for transgender rights

HB112 and HB113, the super nasty bills targeting trans youth, have been getting major attention. More than 150 business leaders, non-profits, and community leaders from across the state signed a joint letter in opposition. These bills are f*cked up to the max and it’s important you make your voice heard NOW — the hearings for these bills have been rescheduled for Monday, January 18th (TOMORROW) at 8am. If either of these bills make it out of committee we will need to MOBILIZE LIKE HELL to make sure they don’t pass on the house floor. Check out our action alert with details here!

Feeling as riled up as we are? Don’t worry – if this bill moves to the Senate floor, we’ll be following closely and will make sure you know how to get involved.

However, it’s not all bad! One example — this past Tuesday, SB16 was heard in committee — this bill would allow minors to consent to emergency shelter and services, which is super important for young people who might be fleeing an abusive situation or have guardians/parents who are out of the picture. This bill would grant unsheltered youth the autonomy they need to secure a safe place to stay.

This could mean big things for queer and Indigenous youth. Queer kids make up around 40% of youth experiencing homelessness, and Indigenous youth are also disproportionately displaced. If this bill moves to the Senate floor, we’ll be following close behind.

Attacks on reproductive health?! Not on our watch.

Friends, we just found out that there will be hearings next week for FOUR (4!!!) slimy anti-reproductive healthcare bills. We thought these bills might trickle in throughout the session, but didn’t expect them to fully Niagara Falls on us only three weeks in. Our legislators have a lot important work to do for us and intruding into our personal, private health care decisions ain’t it.

HB136 and HB171 will be heard in committee Tuesday AM, and HB140 and HB167 will be heard Wednesday AM. Please contact your Representative TODAY and urge them to vote NO on these four dangerous anti-abortion bills. 

Concealed carry? (STILL) Not on my campus!

Remember HB102 from last week? Quick refresher, this bill allows concealed carry of firearms on university campuses, among other places. On Thursday, it passed a vote on the House floor along party lines.

During floor debate, Rep. Braxton Mitchell of Columbia Falls claimed this bill will protect college-aged women, “who have been finally given the right to defend themselves.” Without any supporting evidence, he claimed that more guns on campus will decrease the frequency of sexual assault, making women safer. Wrong, actually. Evidence shows that guns amplify the inherent power of abusive partners in intimate relationships, putting women at greater risk of being killed. Do your research, dude.

Roll up your sleeves, folks, because HB102 will move to the Senate next and we will have another chance to tell our legislators why this bill is bad-news-bears for students and faculty at Montana universities. If you’d like to submit a public comment, contact Grace at grace@forwardmontana.org!

Barriers to voting… How is this still a thing?!

Here we are, in 2021, fighting for equity at the polls once again. However, we’re starting on a positive note!

SB15, introduced by Sen. Janet Ellis of Helena, would make casting a ballot more accessible for people with disabilities by requiring electronic interface devices at all polling locations, including for school elections. This is a welcome addition to services that are already in place for voters with disabilities, and we’re hoping it passes with flying colors! It will be heard in the Senate State Administration Committee on January 22nd. Hit up the committee and tell them to vote yes for SB15!

WTF is a levy?

A ‘levy’ uses tax money to fund all kinds of necessary public services – things like higher education, transportation infrastructure, fire departments, and municipal water systems.

Historically, levy measures have required a simple majority to pass. HB107 would change thisrequiring all levy measures to reach a 2/3rds majority. Many levies that have passed over the years (including the 6-Mill Levy, which keeps college tuition affordable in Montana) would not have passed under these newly proposed requirements. This could have detrimental effects on our communities, making it WAY harder for Montanans to get the services and funding they need.

We’re hoping this bill dies in committee and fades into a deep, dark abyss so we never have to see it again, please and thank you.

Wind energy raking in the big bucks

We know climate change is a big concern for young Montanans, and that’s why we’re committing to sliding our fashionably-dressed foot in the door to fight for thoughtful legislation that prioritizes our environment.

This week, Senator Duane Ankney of Colstrip — lover of all things coal — introduced a bill that would increase taxes on wind energy generation. Basically, SB85 would put a big ol’ wrench in strides towards expanding wind energy in Montana. Sen. Ankney argued there should be “fairness of taxation.” Someone tell him that corporations and the ultra-wealthy do not pay fair taxes.

Everyone from construction contractors to clean energy developers to dang good citizens fighting for our climate spoke to oppose this bill. TL;DR: wind energy is on the cusp of becoming a big thing in Montana. Raising taxes would deter wind developers from bringing projects here, and we’re not having it.

Villain & Hero of the Week:

Dear friends, it has (unfortunately) not been difficult to identify a villain during this tumultuous week. There are so many devilish candidates, we could hardly decide. But don’t you worry, for one person sticks out above the rest.

I present to you, *announcer voice,* Rep. Derek Skees of Kalispell. Skees is a House Majority Whip, and he tried to pull a fast one on us when he silenced Rep. Jim Keane of Butte during his testimony on icky HB102.

Rep. Keane was sharing his personal experience as someone who has suffered a gunshot wound when Skees told him his comments were irrelevant and shut him down. This sets a very dangerous precedent, so we can pretty much agree that Skees is a permanent contender for villain. Next time he decides to silence a fellow lawmaker, he’ll answer to us.

Not to be a broken record, but here at Forward Montana, we believe transparency in politics is so darn important. That’s why our hero of the week is Rep. Alice Buckley of Bozeman.

Despite busy times on the Hill, Rep. Buckley found time to take to the ‘gram and keep her followers updated on the ins, outs, and all the hot gossip at the Capitol. As a freshman legislator and young person, Rep. Buckley is setting an example of honesty and accountability in legislative work. What a breath of fresh air!

The cherry on top? Rep. Buckley and her roommate, the fabulous Rep. Emma Kerr-Carpenter of Billings, will be finishing each week off with an IG live update from their couch where they will answer all YOUR questions! You can tune in every Friday to get #informed with our hero of the week and resident communication queen, Alice Buckley.

Thanks for sticking with us to the end! Contact us here for answers to all your most pressing legislative questions. TTFN!